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Sand Dabs

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Sand dabs are a favorite of mine. They are local to Southern California where I live and so usually both cheap and fresh.

Recently, I had some sand dabs at AOC in which the fish had actually curled on itself, much in the way that fish sometimes does when you fry it at a fairly high temperature. I liked the dish because the result was an excellent texture that was a little crunchy and nicely caramelized. The thing is, the dish did not at all suggest that the fish had ever been fried. Does anyone know how you can get the fish to taste this way/look like this in a sautee pan?

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  1. I think that all you need to do is put the fish in the pan, skin side down and just let it curl naturally. Some people cut slits in the fish skin to DIScourage curling, so don't cut into it. I experience that all the time cooking something like that - a relatively small, flat, thin fillet. Don't allow the fish to adhere to the pan so keep the pan hot and oiled and you should experience the curling you're looking for.

    5 Replies
    1. re: HaagenDazs

      good answer, one addendum: it might be that the filet was only skinned on one side. that could encourage the curling as well (as HD pointed out,t his is somethign most cooks try to prevent). Fun fact: Most of what is sold as sand dabs these days are actually rex sole. they're very closely related and taste the same.

      1. re: FED

        What exactly do you mean by skinned only on one side? I'm just not following you there... do you mean a whole fish?

        1. re: HaagenDazs

          sand dabs (and rex sole) have two sides ... wait, that sound insulting, it's not meant to be. the top half that faces up is dark and has a slightly tough skin. the bottom half, which lays on the sand, is light and thin. Best practice is to peel both skins, but sometimes the thin bottom skin is left on for various reasons (effect? sheer laziness?)

      2. re: HaagenDazs

        Okay, I tried your method.

        I guess that I figured out a couple of things. The restaurant I was thinking of must have entirely deboned the fish into four pieces. My fish seem like that they may have been too small to do that. Can one entirely debone such a small fish without being an expert at dissection? Should I ask my fishmonger to give it a shot?

        But the other thing that baffles me is that the fish doesn't really hold together, like I would have expected. Instead it is rich and moist and falls apart rather than sticks to itself. Any ideas here? I probably should have used a higher temp.

        Perhaps the rex sole/sand dabs issue? If so, which is which?

        1. re: nhb2009

          i know there are some restaurants that serve sand dabs filleted. but that's like serving a prime rib off the bone (well, not exactly becausethat would still be a good steak ... but you get what i mean). sand dabs should be cooked and served on teh bone. taking the maet off is simple, as long as you make sure you cook the fish well (this isn't one you want to serve rare). Sand dabs are absolutely one ofmy favorite fish (and they're a great bargain--usually less than $7 a pound). just don't try to make them what thye're not.

      3. I got some sand dabs from the farmer's market the other day -- when I got him and they had a defrosted a bit I noticed they had a really fishy smell. I have always heard that fresh fish should not smell fishy. Are these old or bad? Or are sand dabs particularly smelly fish?