A Little Dab'll Do Ya

Sand Dabs, carrots, turnips and turnip greens


I’ve been diligently cooking from recipes, albeit with adaptations and fitting to suit, for years. Well over a year’s worth are recorded on this site. On this occasion, I cooked with what came out of the refrigerator, and from suggestions.

This week, the Shogun stall at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market had Sand Dabs. I love Sand Dabs, little bitty things, two to three for a serving. But these were big fellas, seven or eight inches long. Wonderful.

These guys were complete with their heads and the fishmonger said as I turned to leave, “You’ll have to clean those.”  I’ve never cleaned a Sand Dab, but the internet knows all. I typed “cleaning sand dabs” in Google and got a fishing site, which said, “Cleaning them is simple. You scale them and cut off the head with a diagonal stroke from the top of the head across the gut. This removes all traces of the innards and its ready to fry.”

I looked at the fish. Y’know, they’re in the flounder family, and they have both eyes on one side of the head. Creepy. On the non-eye side I could see the gut, and aligned my big knife from there to the top of the head and whacked it. Clean as a whistle!

Pan frying in butter is the common preparation for the little guys, but I wanted to try something else for these big ones. I recalled seeing Mark Bittman on his Saturday TV show, poach mackerel in a stainless steel bowl in a liquid of water, soy sauce, sliced ginger, sliced garlic, mirin and wine vinegar.

That should work for the Sand Dabs.

I got some little Tokyo turnips at the market, as well, and cut off their greens to eat for lunch Saturday, but had something else instead. By Monday, they were getting a little wilty. I have to use those. Alice Waters says in Chez Panisse Vegetables to braise carrots, trimmed, and turnips with their greens on, in butter and water. Well, the turnip greens are off, but I can do that.


And there’s dinner. I warned Carol, “I’m trying new stuff, fall-back for dinner is Chili.” (I made Gina Pfiffer’s Chili that afternoon in the slow cooker.)

No fallback necessary. The fish kinda fell apart when I took it out of the bowl, making it piled rather than composed, but it tasted great, sweet, with a hint of soy and ginger. Yum.


Bittman Poaching liquid
5.07 from the TV

He poached Mackeral fillets. I guess you could use it for other small fish, as well, such as trout.

He used a big stainless steel bowl, why not?

Wild guess quantities, no time to write them down.
3 cups water
1/2 inch sliced ginger, he didn’t peel it, you don’t eat it.
2 cloves sliced garlic
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons wine vinegar

Bring to a boil for a few minutes, poach your fish innit.

2 thoughts on “A Little Dab'll Do Ya

  1. The only problem here that mackerel cannot be compared in any way to ‘other small fish’ such as trout, or sand dabs. These are extremely delicate fish, where mackerel is a meaty, firm and oily fish. The only comparison could be that they are all relatively small. This is why yours fell to pieces. Where Bittman’s poaching method works with many fish, it is a fairly strong (ie heavy on the soy), and pairs very well with mackerel’s relatively strong, assertive flavor. Sand dabs and trout are fish of a very delicate flavor and structure, which work better with light flavors like white wine and butter.

    If one were to adapt Bitman’s method to these fish, I would suggest making a much lighter poaching liquid using much less soy, garlic and sugar; and more water, and probably more mirin.

    I’ve tried it with mackerel, which was delicious, and adapted it (lightening somewhat) for Panga (a meaty southeast asian white fish) and a fish local to the North Sea called (in Dutch, that’s where I am) ‘Victoriabaars’ which is somewhere between a cod and a bass, but with more firm flesh than these.

    Tonight I’m going to experiment with halibut which is somewhat richer than both trout and flounder, and as I’m fresh out of ginger (oops!), I’m going to use green onions with plenty of the white part julliened. White wine will replace mirin and vinegar, and black pepper will hold it all together.

    Rice and steamed broccoli to accompany.



  2. C Poticha,
    Thanks for your comment. I will try your halibut method – I’m always looking for a new way to cook halibut.

    As for the mackerel, I’ve always been afraid of that fish, but I’ll give that a shot, too.


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