1. Food

Sand Dabs -- The Littlest Flounder

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A trio of Pacific sand dabs

A trio of Pacific sand dabs

Hank Shaw

Sanddabs are Made for the Skillet:

Sand dab: Even the name sounds cute. Dabs are the smallest flatfish we typically eat, and there are variants of these little flounders all over the world. While few people eat them in the Atlantic, over on America's Pacific Coast fried sanddabs (sometimes they are spelled as one word) are a regional delicacy.

Sand dabs are generally less than a pound -- sometimes smaller than a half-pound -- and are an abundant denizen of sandy bottoms along the coast. They eat crustaceans and molluscs, and so have a sweet, soft texture that is uncommonly moist and mild.

The fishery in California is sustainable, although most are caught through bottom trawling, which, while better than trawling over rocky bottom, still isn't great for the environment. Most watchdog groups list sanddabs as a "good" choice.

From an eating standpoint, dabs are basically yummy fish morsels. Most are too small to properly fillet, so cooks generally pan-dress them by scaling and gutting, then taking off their heads; some cooks (myself included) remove the fins, too.

This makes the dab easy to eat. You eat them by sticking your fork where the backbone is, then pushing the meat outward. Do it right and you won't get bones in your mouth and you'll have a clean sanddab spine at the end of the meal.

Frying or sauteing are the chief cooking methods for dabs. You could also smoke them (although sand dabs are lean), bake, broil or oven-fry them. I have never seen a steamed sanddab recipe, but I suppose you could steam these little fish, too.

Dabs are almost always sold fresh and whole, so have your fishmonger clean them for you if you can, and eat them within a day or two of buying or catching them.

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