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sanddabs – the littlest flounder

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Sanddab: Even the name sounds cute. Dabs are the typically the smallest flatfish we eat, and there are variants of these little flounders all over the world. While few people eat them in the Atlantic, over on our Pacific Coast sanddabs are a regional delicacy and show up frequently during our summer-fall months here in the Monterey Bay. Whole sanddabs are generally less than a pound -sometimes smaller than a half-pound- and are an abundant on the sandy bottoms along the coast. They eat crustaceans and mollusks which gives them that oh-so-special sweet, soft texture that is uncommonly moist and mild. The fishery in California is sustainable, most watchdog groups list sanddabs as a “good” choice when caught by trawling. Scottish Seine is another fishing method used that  is considered to be the  most gentle on the environment, and also extremely well suited for capturing these fragile, prized fish. Frying or sautéing are the most common cooking methods for dabs. You could also smoke them (although sand dabs are lean), bake, broil or oven-fry them.  Dabs are best if you eat them within a day or two of catching them…it’s just the nature of sanddab fillets – they don’t keep too long. Don’t worry about the skin and bones…they are both so little and fine you can eat them although there shouldn’t be many bones since we have fillet them for you.  Most sanddabs you’ll find for sale are still whole, H&H hooks you up with a nice fillet job. It’s not easy…filleting those little dabs are a labor of love.   

Although I really try to keep my CSS recipe selections on the lighter side, sanddabs truly are just sooo yummy pan fried.  Our favorite way to prepare them is to mix a little salt and pepper into some flour, give them a nice dredge in that, and cook them in an olive oil/butter combination.  Then we top them with either a squeeze of lemon juice & capers or that yogurt tartar sauce recipe I’ve given you before: plain yogurt, relish (or capers), and mustard.  Many of our customers put cook them and make them into a sanddab sandwich! Here’s a few basic recipes:

California Sanddabs

Ingredients
1 lbs sanddab fillets
1 egg
, beaten
1 -2 cup Panko or 1 -2 cup dried breadcrumbs
salt & pepper
butter (for frying)
lemon wedge

Preparation
Dip the sand dabs into the beaten egg; season with salt & pepper, roll in Panko or bread crumbs. Heat a large skillet, add butter and fry until golden brown and crisp. Serve with lemon wedges or your favorite tartar sauce.
Adapted by hr from Coastal Living, November 2005


Broiled Sanddabs

Ingredients
1 lb sanddab fillets
2 Tbsp. butter (optional)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preparation
Preheat broiler and set a cooking rack 3 – 4 inches below the broiler. Rinse sand dab filets and pat them dry. Place them, skin-side-down, on a baking sheet. Dot filets with butter and/or just sprinkle with S&P. Place baking sheet under the broiler and cook until fish flakes easily and starts to brown on top, about 4 minutes. Serve hot.


Sanddabs with Grilled Corn and Tomato Salad

Ingredients
1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, melted
A Dash of Tabasco Sauce
2 Tbsp. Fresh Basil, finely chopped
1 tsp. Fine Sea Salt
1/2 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground
2-3 Ears White or Yellow Corn, husks & silks removed
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, for brushing, plus 1/4 C.
2 Tbsp. Fresh Lime Juice
 2 Tbsp. Fresh Chives, finely snipped
1 Bunch Watercress, tough stems removed or Sunflower Sprouts (our favorite!)
 3 C. Cherry Tomatoes, halved lengthwise

Preparation
In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter, Tabasco, basil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Place sheet of foil (each 15”-long) on the counter and place ear of corn on each sheet. Brush corn with butter mixture and wrap up in the foil. Meanwhile, prepare the grill (medium heat). Grill the corn packages for 10 minutes, turning occasionally with tongs. Unwrap the corn and grill the ears directly on the rack for another 5-10 minutes (until nicely charred – not blackened). When corn is cool enough to handle, place each ear over a large serving bowl and cut off the kernels from the cob. Add the lime juice, 1/4 C. olive oil, chives, remaining 1/2 tsp. salt, and remaining 1/4 tsp. pepper in the bowl with the corn and toss to combine. Add the watercress (or sprouts) and cherry tomatoes; toss gently. Serve immediately topped with fried or broiled sanddabs.

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love at first albacore

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Well I know I may seem like an odd, overly-sentimental, fish-loving woman sometimes, but I have to say it… local albacore has a special place in my heart. One of the first dates Hans and I ever went on was albacore fishing… naturally, the man had to see if I could fish before he made any serious commitments. Hahaha. Lucky for me we nailed the albacore that day…12 years later we still love fishing together!
Here’s a photo from that very day, the official first H&H fishing trip.

And if you ever get the chance to do some local fishing, you gotta try for the albacore. Not only is it a delicious fish to eat, it is one of the most fun fish to catch. They are among the fastest swimmers in our ocean and this leads to a super thrilling catch if you can get one on the line. Locally, we really only see the albacore in the fall when the currents of warm water get close to our coast – around 60˚ on the outside. It doesn’t happen every year but when it does there is a frenzy of fishermen out there. Generally it’s quite a bit of a boat trip – 40-50 miles out but this year fishermen are reporting them as close as 15-20 miles. Local albacore don’t stick around for long so when you hear the buzz mid to late summer/early fall go for it! Monterey Bay albacore is a delectable culinary treasure and is a fun way to impress your date wether catching it or cooking it.

Cooking albacore is really pretty straightforward. Our local albacore is buttery in flavor, with firm texture. Because albacore has a tendency to dry out quickly, it should be cooked just until it becomes firm to the touch. Some like to sear it and leave the center pink, while others take it just slightly beyond that. If you prefer to cook it more on the thorough side, a nice marinade or poach works well. OR – don’t cook it at all! Our albacore tuna is sashimi grade! If you find a bit of the dark blood meat just trim that off. We use albacore tuna to make our the Poké we sell weekly at our Farmers’ Markets. Year-round it comes from HI if not caught locally. I am of course posting Hans’ original recipe below but there are many variations of Poké. Maybe you will create your own original recipe?! Here is our daughter Dahlia helping us prepare poké in our commercial kitchen.


Simple generic cooking methods:

~Broil: Turn broiler to high. Place Albacore in broiler for 8-12 minutes.
~BBQ: When charcoals are ready, place Albacore steaks on the grill. Place cover on bbq. For Medium-Rare bbq for 3 1/2 minutes on each side. For Medium Albacore steaks bbq for 4 1/2 minutes on each side. Do not over cook. Albacore steaks can be placed on aluminum foil instead of directly on the grill.
~ Sauté: Lightly coat pan with cooking spray, vegetable oil, or olive oil. Place on Medium-High heat. When hot place Albacore in pan. For Medium-Rare cook for 3 1/2 minutes on each side. For Medium cook for 4 1/2 minutes on each side.
~Bake: Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Place Albacore in a small pan of half water half white wine or another liquid, juice works well, sake too. Bake for 15-18 minutes.

Below is a collection of healthy recipes I enjoy for the Albacore – it’s all good if you want to bread and deep fry it…but you won’t find that on any blog of mine (wink wink)…

Tuna with Tomato-Caper Sauce

Ingredients
1 lb albacore
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion (8 oz.), peeled, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
1 can (14 1/2 oz.) crushed tomatoes in purée
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Preparation
Rinse tuna steaks and pat dry. Sprinkle lightly all over with salt and pepper. Pour oil into a 10- to 12-inch nonstick frying pan over high heat. When hot, add onion and stir frequently until limp, about 5 minutes.  Push onion to side of pan and add tuna steaks. Cook, turning once, just until browned on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes total. Stir in crushed tomatoes, wine, vinegar, capers, and oregano.  Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until tuna is no longer pink in the center (cut to test), about 15 minutes. Transfer tuna to plates and top equally with sauce.
adapted by hr from Sunset  Dec 2004


Seared Tuna with Japanese Salsa

Ingredients
1 lb albacore
1 teaspoon minced or pressed garlic
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup sake
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3/4 cup finely chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 to 8 slices peeled avocado (3 to 4 oz. total)

Preparation
Rinse tuna; pat dry. Spread garlic on both sides of steaks; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour oil into an 8- to 10-inch nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add tuna. Cook, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Pour sake and 1 tablespoon soy sauce around steaks; remove from heat. Let cool, turning fish often.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix tomatoes, green onion, cilantro, lemon juice, and remaining tablespoon soy sauce. Lift tuna from sake mixture, reserving juices. Cut fish across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices and lay on plates. Garnish with the salsa and avocado slices. If desired, spoon pan juices equally over tuna (otherwise discard).
adapted by hr from Sunset June, 2003

Albacore Tuna with Cucumber, Orange and Mint Relish

Ingredients
1 lb albacore
3/8 teaspoon chile powder (preferably ancho), plus extra for sprinkling
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 orange
1-2 Persian cucumbers, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup 1/2-inch cubes radishes (about 1/2 bunch)
3 tablespoons minced red onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preparation
Sprinkle the tuna on both sides with a light dusting of chile powder, salt and pepper. Finely grate the zest from the oranges and press into the tuna; save the oranges for the relish. Let the tuna marinate while preparing the relish. Cut the white pith from the oranges. Cut the oranges in half, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Cut enough of the orange slices into 1/2-inch cubes to measure 3/4 cup and place in a medium bowl. Add the cucumbers, radishes, onion, mint and lime juice, and 3/8 teaspoon chile powder to the oranges and toss to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the fish and cook as desired, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side for medium rare. (The fish will give slightly when pressed and will appear pink in the center when cut with a small sharp knife.) Transfer to 2 warmed plates and serve with the relish.
adapted by hr from Kristine Kidd, Monterey Bay Aquarium Food Editor


Grilled Tuna with Mediterranean Sauce

Ingredients
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup pitted green olives, such as Picholine
1/2 cup pitted black olives, such as kalamata or oil-cured
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lb albacore
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation
Preheat grill to medium-high heat (350° to 400°).  Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 to 7 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. Add tomatoes and olives, and cook, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes or until mixture is well blended and tomato juice has reduced slightly. Remove from heat, and stir in thyme and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle tuna steaks with salt and pepper. Grill on greased grill racks 2 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Transfer tuna steaks to individual plates, and top evenly with tomato-olive mixture.
adapted by hr from Coastal Living April, 2012


Albacore Tuna Kabobs with Sicilian Salsa

Ingredients
1  lbs Albacore tuna, cut into 2” x 2” cubes
1 lemon, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
12 bay leaves, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes.
3-4 skewers (if wooden, soak in water for 30 minutes)
Sicilian salsa (see recipe below)

Preparation
Light a charcoal fire. Skewer tuna, lemon and bay leaves, alternating on skewers. When the coals are white, grill tuna until medium, just slightly rare in the center. Place on plates and ladle sauce over. Serve immediately.

Sicilian Salsa

Ingredients
4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbs lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbs chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preparation
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. This can be refrigerated but must be brought to room temperature before serving.
adapted by hr from wildalbacore.blogspot.com. Oct, 2010


Hans’ Original Tuna Poke (sold weekly at the H&H booth!)
Poke (English pronunciation: /poʊˈkeɪ/) is a raw fish salad served as an appetizer in Hawaiian cuisine. Pokē is the Hawaiian verb for “section” or “to slice or cut”. (-Wikipedia)

Ingredients
1 lb albacore, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 bunch green onions, roughly chopped
1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sugar

Preparation
Gently combine ingredients into one bowl.  The tuna will be delicate so this salad needs to be mixed with care.  The soy sauce, which adds salt, can be adjusted to taste as well as the chili pepper flakes which add heat.
Options:
-may substitute Albacore with sashimi-grade Ahi or Yellowtail (Hamachi)
-enjoy this salad topped with chopped roasted macadamia nuts.

Enjoy the albacore. I hope that you may develop a special place in your heart for this fish as well. XOX ~Heidi