Learn about the following species groups (including their most common members, as well as purchasing, storage and cooking information), or select a specific species from the species list on the right.
The name ‘Dory’ comes from old French ‘doree’, meaning ‘gilded’ referring to the dories’ shiny skin. These large-eyed, silvery, fish with flat, disc-shaped bodies and spiny fins are generally found in deepwater on or near the ocean bed. The most common commercial dories in Australia belong to the Zeidae family, named for the powerful Greek god Zeus and known as the ‘true’ dories. They are among Australia’s most popular fish.
John dory (Zeus faber) is one of the most highly prized of all finfish. Found in the western Pacific, eastern Atlantic and Indian Oceans, it’s known as Peter fish or St Peter’s fish in many European languages due to the story that the distinctive dark spot on either side of its body is from the thumb print of St Peter the fisherman. The origin of its English name is a bit hazier, though the most likely explanation is a reference to the greeny-silver hue of its smooth shiny skin, from ‘jaune doré’, French for ‘golden yellow’. Another explanation is ‘Janitore’, Latin for ‘door-keeper’, another allusion to St. Peter, the keeper of Heaven’s gates. It’s caught mainly off the southeastern coast of NSW and Victoria, is available year round and is typically 500g-1.5kg and 30-45cm, but can grow to 3.5kg and 75cm.
Mirror dory (Zenopsis nebulosa) has shiny, smooth, virtually scaleless, silver skin and is caught in deeper water than John dory, mainly off the southeastern coast of NSW and Victoria. It’s a similar size to its more expensive relation and makes a good alternative. It is often mistakenly called silver dory, which is the name of a different, but related, fish (see below).
Other dories occasionally seen include members of the Cyttidae family (sometimes called ‘Australian dories’ though some are found further afield than Australian waters). They’re mainly caught as by-catch and, unlike the ‘true’ dories, their scaled skin is rough to touch. Silver dory (Cyttus australis) is endemic to Australia, it has silvery-pink skin and a more elongated body than most other dories. King dory (Cyttus traversi) is mainly caught as bycatch of blue grenadier trawling off the southeastern coast of NSW and Victoria. New Zealand dory (Cyttus novaezealandiae) is another member of this family.
Dories are sold whole (gilled and gutted) and in fillet form (usually skin on, as the most highly prized, John dory, is identified by the dark spot on its side). In whole fish look for lustrous skin, firm flesh, and a pleasant, fresh sea smell. In fillets, look for firm, lustrous, moist flesh without any brown markings or oozing water and with a pleasant fresh sea smell. John dory flesh is white, whereas mirror dory has a pink tinge and silver and king dories are slightly yellowish.
Make sure whole fish is gutted and cleaned thoroughly; king and silver dories also need to be scaled. Wrap whole fish and fillets in plastic wrap or place in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze whole fish for up to 6 months, and fillets for up to 3 months, below -18ºC.
Cooking & Serving
Dories are versatile, suitable for steaming, poaching, deep-frying, pan-frying, baking, grilling, and barbecuing. They have a mild, flavour (John dory is slightly sweet), low oiliness and moist, medium-textured flesh with fine flakes and few bones, which are easily removed. The edible skin can be left on. Fillets are thin and best wrapped in foil or banana leaves to protect them if barbecuing or grilling.
When is a Dory not a Dory
Oreodories, members of a closely related family, belong to the same order as dories, Zeiformes. They have rougher, darker skin, larger eyes and more elongated bodies than dories and are generally found in deeper water. They include black (Allocyttus niger); warty (Allocyttus verrucosus - also marketed as black oreodory); rough (Neocyttus psilorhynchus); spiky (Neocyttus rhomboidalis); smooth (Pseudocyttus maculates); and oxeye (Oreosoma atlanticum) oreodories, though in North America Allocyttus folletti is known as oxeye oreo. They are less expensive than dories and generally considered inferior to them, though they are still good eating and can be substituted for dories in recipes. They have a thick skin, which is best removed, and a slightly firmer texture than dories.
A number of unrelated, inferior species are sometimes incorrectly labelled as dories by retailers hoping to trade on the strength of this species’ popularity. Basa (Pangasius bocourti), a farmed catfish imported from South East Asia, is sometimes sold as Pacific dory or cream dory. Butterfish, including striped scat (Selenotoca multifasciata) and spotted scat (Scatophagus argus) have sometimes been called dory, john dory or johnny dory and several species of spinyfin (members of the Diretmidae family) have also sometimes been incorrectly marketed as dories.