It's rare to see a professional cook write an op-ed for a newspaper such as the Los Angeles Times, but Kelly Whitaker makes a plea for a fishery which I second from the bottom of my heart. I have made sand dabs for supper countless times because yes, they're irresistible. Please don't let them go away.
Help these fish survive by supporting this effort to bring them back, and enjoy a fine guilt-free dinner to boot:
West Coast groundfish are bottom-dwelling fish, including species such as Pacific Dover sole, ling cod, hake, Pacific sand dabs and dozens of rockfish species. They're usually caught as far as 200 miles off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington.
In 2000, this fishery was an economic and environmental disaster. Overfishing, coupled with trawling methods, so devastated the ocean floor that groundfish couldn't replenish their populations. Faced with losing this vital fishery, fishermen, regulators and conservationists came together to find a solution. In just 14 years with new management methods, including putting federal observers on every fishing vessel, the ecosystem has recovered. Using new technology and fishing practices, fishermen have learned how to protect the most vulnerable species.
While the fishery may have recovered environmentally, it hasn't economically.
Here's my experience, and my attempt to coax you into trying what might be a new recipe.
First, find some Sand Dabs. This may be as easy as going to your local fishmonger, of any sort, because this fish freezes very well and unfreezes easily, so it need not be perfectly fresh, to be truthful, although of course it's great if possible.
It's a marvel. You don't even need lemon. But let me recommend a ground-fish in particular, California sand dabs, which are much like Dover sole, but even lighter, fresher, sweeter. And in most cases cheaper, because it's a less known variety.
4 fillets, about 5 ounces each
Spread in a shallow bowl
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs, processed fine [yes, you can cheat on this item]
Dredge the fillets in:
Shake off the excess flour, then slip in the egg mixture and finely roll or pat in the breadcrumbs. Refrigerate the breaded fillets for 1 hour until dry. Don't let the fillets touch each while drying.
Heat in a heavy iron pan:
clarified butter, or oil and butter, 1/2 inch deep
When hot but not smoking, add the fish fillets and cook until brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. turn and cook until the other side is brown and crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on an absorbent towel or paper. Serve immediately.
(W/lots of options, such as adding herbs before breading. Cayenne or paprika in the flour. Lemon zest with the breading. Cornmeal instead of gluten. Oysters instead of fish. Fresh tartar sauce.)
Sometimes the simple things are the best.