Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Dec 6, 2008 03:36 PM

Dover Sole in US supermarkets: is this the real thing?

I had always thought (perhaps naievely) that true Dover Sole was a variety of fish that could only be obtained in the UK- and all of the other soles that were sold in the fish markets in the US were just renamed versions of flounder, so named to make them more appetizing to the purchaser. (Such as Lemon sole, etc). Suddenly I am seeing Dover Sole for sale in Publix supermarkets here in SC and I wonder, is this the real thing, or have purveyors just become more liberal with what they call Dover Sole? I looked it up on wikipedia already, and have not read enough of an explanation to satisfy my curiosity. Anyone out there in the know? Is the fish I made for dinner really "Dover Sole?" Thank you!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. True dover sole comes to the US from Holland and England on Tuesdays and Fridays. It is prohibitively expensive. There is a farmed product available from Chile that is less money, but the quality's just not the same.

    12 Replies
    1. re: almansa

      Thanks- that's about what I expected- the price, at $8.99/lb, does not seem to suggest that this could possibly be the real thing. The source is not listed on the sign though it does state "wild" rather than "farmed." The guy behind the fish counter wasn't informed on whether this was for real, and I am guessing that it's not True dover sole. My question, to anyone else who can weigh in, is how can they call it Dover Sole if that's not what it is?

      1. re: gdsto

        most likely an inported flounder.

        The Publix in our area sells Kingclip. It looks like grouper. I hear people ask about it all the time and the people behind the counter say it's like grouper. WRONG. I tried it once out of curiosity. Very mush fish and nothing like grouper. Then my wife came home with it once saying they told me it was like grouper. Kingclip is like a large eel. Maybe fresh it's pretty good and discriptions on the net don't list it as soft but I've come to dislike the fish at Publix except farmed salmon which is doesn't seem to vary between markets.

        1. re: gdsto

          I'm not sure they can. I think a lot of Attorneys General would call them on that, if consumers questioned it, consumer protection departments investigated and found it to be an imposter fish. I'm pretty sure my state's would. But sometimes if they have posted somewhere in teeny tiny print that only a mosquito can read the real 411, that's enough to satisfy state law. I don't like to buy fish in most supermarkets, but I live in a coastal state and have options. I often wonder what kind of salt water fish and seafood are available to residents of our far interior, landlocked states.

          1. re: Steady Habits

            I don't know what the actual regulations are off hand, but plenty of species are passed off as others everyday,everywhere. There's always talk of doing something about it , but I don't know if anyone actually gets fined. They just say it was an honest mistake, at least in my experience.


            1. re: coll

              I know you're right about that, and it makes me crazy. When I was growing up, everybody had the real stuff, often, and people knew about fish. So now, a lot of folks are trying to return to it, for health reasons, etc., except they're not getting what they think they're getting...

              The only thing that gives me hope is that I heard a news story on the radio the other day about either our AG (CT) or maybe New York's...wasn't listening closely, but here in the Tri-State...fining a grocery chain for some subterfuge or another. It wasn't about fish, but some other kind of false advertising (or, not to be punny, some kind of bait-and-switch).

              I do know this, though...CT's AG can be a real bulldog, so if I see one of the stores I shop at do that, I just may call his office.

            2. re: Steady Habits

              The problem is that they buy fish from foreign suppliers and if the box is labeled Dover Sole they can list it as such. Who knows what it really is. DNA testing is becoming more common in helping to curb fraud in this industry

              1. re: scubadoo97

                There is actually a flat fish caught in the pacific that stores are allowed to call "Dover Sole". That is the sole 99% of us are seeing int he store. Its scientific name: Microstomus pacificus. Real dover sole is:Solea vulgaris. Thicker, firmer, butterier.

                Asking the person behind the counter is usually fruitless. If it is relatively inexpensive, it is the american version.

                1. re: scubadoo97

                  Although FDA can respond to specific complaints, they do not have the resources to DNA test every fish that enters through our ports. Fraud will always be around and there is not much anyone can do about it except to educate yourself about what you are buying. If something seems wrong at the time of purchase, then don't buy it. Unfortunately, there are other uneducated shoppers waiting in line behind you who won't know the difference between a real Dover sole and a cheaper fish masquerading as one and will buy it anyway.

                  1. re: Jobe1

                    Jobe 1, When you say, "Unfortunately, there are other uneducated shoppers waiting in line behind you who won't know the difference between a real Dover sole and a cheaper fish masquerading as one and will buy it anyway.", you make it sound like the general public is just an ignorant bunch. That may be, however, the information you listed on this fish is pretty much the same info available on Wikipedia, and you may as well include the majority of the posters to this thread, because most of them have responded with a shoulder shrug and some secondary information, at best. I include myself among those that know little more than what was posted on Wikipedia. Although, I did know it probably 20 years before Wikipedia existed.

                    I was a chef through the 80's and into the 90's, and apparently, none of the info floating around has changed since then. I asked this question to various fish mongers with whom I did business and they all said the same thing, more or less, as is found on Wikipedia now. The only sole is the one from the Dover-ish area. Nearly everything we get here is some variety of flounder that has been renamed. Another very common version of this scam, (It is a scam) is on the West Coast with "Snapper," or "Red Snapper." It's rare to see real Red Snapper here on the West Coast. What is usually called Snapper, is really Pacific Rock Cod. I remember one fish market in my relatively small town selling fillets of "Rock Cod" displayed with the skin side down. A couple feet away in the case from that was fillets of "Snapper" displayed with the skin side up, for a dollar more per pound. (Both were skinless) It was the exact same fish! This same store has been busted numerous times for weights and measures violations and some sanitation violations. Fortunately, they finally went out of business a few months ago after about 4 decades of ripping the public off. The "Dover Sole/flounder scam" and the "Red snapper/pacific rock cod scam" is common in California.

                    1. re: bennybbc

                      The thing I am most wary of now is arrowtooth flounder. Because of particular enzymes, it turns to mush when cooked. I've been fooled a couple of times when it was labeled as turbot or halibut. But even when sold by its true name at $2/lb it is not worth it. The best I was able to do with it was make fishcakes.


                      1. re: paulj

                        I like to go by the saying, you get what you pay for! At $2 a lb I wouldn't even think it was real, solid fish. Maybe if I was broke and starving? Thanks for the warning.

              2. re: gdsto

                There is a west coast species that is also referred to as Dover sole, even though it is an entirely different species. that may be what you are getting for such a low price.

            3. My Whole Foods had had dover sole more than once for around $10/pound. I was always left wondering why in the heck dover sole was so ungodly expensive at a restaurant when I can buy it cheaper than some salmon. I would think Whole Foods would only list it as true Dover Sole?

              4 Replies
              1. re: Rick

                I'm not sure. My recollection is that real Dover Sole - at least in Manhattan stores - costs $25 - $30 a pound.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  I saw grey sole or lemon sole at Whole Foods at around $10 / lb, but definitely not dover sole. When I saw dover sole at Citarella, it was definitely at the $30 / lb range, as MMRuth mentioned.

                  1. re: kobetobiko

                    This was definitely listed as Dover Sole, not gray or lemon. I will say that I preferred the Turbot at around the same price over the listed dover sole. So maybe they mis labeled it?

                    1. re: Rick

                      "My Whole Foods had had dover sole more than once for around $10/pound"

                      That may have been what the sign said but it's not very likely. You should be closer to the $25 a pound range if it really is true Dover Sole. It should also be a a H&G fish and not fillets.

              2. thanks for everyone's responses so far- I checked Publix's website and did a search for dover sole; in an article about flounder, it refers to "dover sole (not to be confused with the English fish of the same name)...True Dover sole comes from England..."

                I am tempted to go to the store and ask them to stop advertising the fish as Dover Sole, since obviously it isn't. I'm getting more annoyed as I think about it because this is obviously a decision on their part rather than a mistake or a misprint. What do you think- do it or drop it?

                15 Replies
                1. re: gdsto

                  Publix usually list the origin of the fish, for example Wild caught South America. How did they list the "Dover Sole"?

                  1. re: scubadoo97

                    Usually they do, I agree with you. In this case, there is no geographical source- rather, it just says "Wild" rather than farmed.

                      1. re: scubadoo97

                        I think it's the law now that country of origin be listed on all products, incl. seafood, meats, and produce.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          It's only on certain meat, poultry and produce, not all. No seafood yet. Well seafood doesn't live in a country anyway if it's wild, I guess.

                          1. re: coll

                            That's not correct. Seafood has always been required to have country of origin labels.

                            It was only recent legislation that required country of origin for other products such as beef, poultry, etc.


                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Too bad country of origin doesn't include species. Hard to say which is more important.

                                1. re: coll

                                  So you think anyone would know one speices from the other?

                                  Dover sole Australia Solea solea
                                  Dover sole Canada Microstomus pacificus
                                  Dover sole Can Br Colum Microstomus pacificus
                                  Dover sole UK Microstomus pacificus
                                  Dover sole USA Solea solea
                                  Dover sole USA Microstomus pacificus
                                  Dover sole Alaska Microstomus pacificus

                                  1. re: scubadoo97

                                    it seems like there are really only 2 species there though- solea solea and microstomus pacificus. what species is the expensive one, and what am I getting at the supermarket? that's what I want to know

                                    1. re: gdsto

                                      Solea solea is a sole - the genuine article - while microstomos pacificus is a member of the flounder family and thus more likely to be what you find in any North American supermarket

                                      1. re: Karl S

                                        Just to amplify a bit, Solea is an eastern Atlantic species, while Microstomus is a Pacific species that ranges from Baja to the Bering Sea. The term was originally applied to the Atlantic species and then "borrowed," due to its prestige, for the Pacific species, which is a good food species in its own right, but not as good as true Dover sole.

                                        With regard to scubadoo97's list, I doubt that there is much Microstomus being shipped from the western US and Canada over to the UK to be sold as Dover sole, otherwise the list seems reasonable and gives some indication of where these two species are found. Neither ranges anywhere near Australia, so presumably they default to the original meaning.

                                        As for what you're getting at the supermarket, that's anyone's guess - the term sole, with or without Dover attached, has lost any real meaning in the American mass market. If I recall correctly, Solea is the only species that can be skinned simply by pulling the skin off the flesh - if so, that's one way to tell if you're getting the genuine article. If it's already been skinned, it probably isn't.

                                        1. re: FlyFish

                                          My post was just to illustrate that to the average Joe, species is not a big help in choosing fish. Unless you are a zoologist or marine biologist listing the species is of little help. It is incumbent on stores and restaurants to not mislead the public. Truth in advertising. Well we could hope couldn't we.

                                          1. re: scubadoo97

                                            Whereas they think their job is to give you what you think you already like and know under one name under that name. (Also, recipes often use those names.) So truth in advertising is just as equivocal as what we want.

                                            This is one reason I won't pay a high price for a fancy fish variety that I cannot tell is that variety by looking at it myself.

                    1. re: gdsto

                      Drop it. It is actually the name of an american fish. You should ask "American or European?" or rely on the price as the clue.

                    2. Ok, just got back from Trader Joe's. They had Dover Sole for $4.99 a pound. I even took a pic of it with my phone, just have to figure out how to get the pic onto the website.

                      8 Replies
                        1. re: Rick

                          How is TJ able to fly in the sole from Dover and sell it at a profit for $4.99 a pound?

                            1. re: Karl S

                              So there is no truth in advertising? And legally, TJ can sell flounder as 'dover sole'?

                              I'm shocked.

                              1. re: dolores

                                U bet it can. There is relatively little regulation of how fish are sold by name.* There is some regulation over advertising the provenance of fish.

                                Thus, what is usually sold as "sole" in the US is almost always flounder, not true sole. Sole fetches a better price than flounder - by name. But the problem (see below) is that people have gotten used to "lemon sole" being the name for a flounder and so that's what they ask for. A kind of vicious circle.

                                * This is because the common local names for fish are often multiple - what species X is known as on Cape Cod can be different from the Cheseapeake, the Florida Panhandle, and the Pacific Coast. The only way to ensure accuracy would be by species code, and fisherman will argue (not entirely implausibly, but obviously self-serving too) they don't have time (and can't afford the liability) for inspecting and differentiating down to the species level. Et cet.

                                1. re: Karl S

                                  Yikes. Thanks, Karl S. Guess I will rethink that 'arctic char' next time I'm at a fish market.

                                  1. re: dolores

                                    Arctic char is farmed (in ponds in northern areas) and that's one of the more reliably named varieties. You can tell the difference from salmon and trout by visual inspection.

                              2. re: Karl S

                                "Because it's flounder"

                                Not very likely but if you can get real Flounder for $4.99# I'd say buy it and forget what they call it. That would be a steal. It's just some other bi-catch flat fish which is exactly what people are all too often getting when they buy "Flounder".
                                Fish marketing is completely out of control. I won't even buy Flounder any more unless I see them whole or H&G.

                        2. "had always thought (perhaps naievely) that true Dover Sole was a variety of fish that could only be obtained in the UK"

                          Much as I'd like to claim it as a national speciality, I'm afraid Dover Sole (or to give it its Latin name "solea solea") is fished all over the eastern Atlantic, North Sea and the Mediterranean and is landed in a number of countries. So, the product you're buying in South Carolina may well be absolutely the genuine European article.

                          I doubt whether the name has any real connection with the town of Dover which has never been a significant fishing port in comparison with many of our other places. Being the shortest sea-crossing we have to continental Europe, it's main seafaringbusiness for centuries has been ferries.

                          BTW, Google indicates that, in America, "Dover Sole" is also appropriately named for a Pacific flounder.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Harters

                            I guess this is the answer- that there are 2 different species of fish with the same accepted name. I don't like it, but will accept this to be the case and move onto more important issues, I guess. Thanks to everyone who participated in my query!