Seasonal Foods: Sanddabs

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Do you love fish? I sure do, especially if it’s sustainably harvested. Here in the Bay Area, we have an abundance of local fish to choose from. Much of it is caught along the coast of Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Bay. Many of you may be familiar with Seafood Watch, a program run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium aimed at helping consumers make good choices when it comes to buying seafood. I like to use their iPhone app which helps me determine if the fish I’m about to buy is on the Best Choices or Good Alternatives list. You’d be surprised by some of the members of the Avoid list.

A few days ago, the SF Chronicle published an article on Pacific Sanddabs in their Food & Wine section. I had seen sandddabs many times before being sold by my local fishmonger. I never thought twice about them, but this article really piqued my interest. I decided to set forth on a mission to find San Francisco’s finest Sanddabs. I did eventually find them at none other than the 18th Street Bi-Rite Market for $10/lb. By Bay Area seafood standards, they are a steal. Move over King Salmon! While sanddabs are not on the Monterey Bay Aquarium “Recommended” list, they are on the “Good Alternatives” list and that’s good enough for me.

I wanted to make the preparation simple so I could highlight the delicate, nutty flavor of the fish. I ended up settling on lightly dredging them in flour and pan-frying them in neutral-tasting rice bran oil, then serving them with chive Beurre Blanc. I roasted up some carrots and cooked some French lentils to serve with them, staying on the French trajectory. The outcome was fabulous, and I’m now hooked on sanddabs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have been squirreling away a bottle of Chablis that I wanted to open with some white fish, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I really do love Chardonnay, especially if it’s French. Chablis is one of the best values in Burgundy, and this bottle only set me back $29. I picked it up at Ruby Wine in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill and I sure am glad I saved it for such an occasion. The pairing was lovely, adding a nice crisp counter-point to the beurre blanc while not overwhelming any of the ingredients in the dish. 2010 was a cool vintage in Chablis and many of the wines made that year have a ton of racy acidity. This wine also had a prominent mineral backbone, a hallmark of Chablis, which was a great compliment to the briney character of the sanddabs. Chablis is a very versatile wine, but I love it most with seafood.

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Are you a sanddab fanatic? Do you fish them yourself, or prepare them in a special way? Let us know in the comments.