It may be true that in the eyes of God, all soles are equal. But on the California dinner plate, petrale is king.
There are other regional seafood specialties that are equally compelling in their own way and in their own time — Dungeness crab in dead winter, wild salmon in the spring, fresh sardines, squid, sand dabs and anchovies whenever they’re running.
But although other fish may compare with petrale, none surpass it. Petrale sole is as good as it gets. The flesh is fine-textured and delicately nutty. There’s a tinge of sweetness. And call me a wine geek, but I think there’s a subtle minerality to the flavor.
Now is the time to enjoy petrale. Though it is available year-round, the fish, primarily caught from Monterey north, have moved into shallower waters for spawning and are practically volunteering to be caught. They are at their most plentiful from January through March.
As with any other great ingredient, there is a ladder of preparation you should follow. The first time you fix it, start on the bottom, most basic, rung to best appreciate the flavor. In the case of petrale, brush it with a little butter, broil it and serve it with lemon wedges on the side.