Fried Sanddabs with Garlic and Oyster Sauce

Have you ever eaten Sanddabs before?

Frying up Some Sanddabs

Frying up some Sanddabs

Not me.  I have a vague recollection of seeing them on a menu somewhere or maybe several different somewheres. But I assumed they were similar to sand dollars, and therefore had no interest in eating flat sea urchins.

Actually, sanddabs are small flatfish, in the same family as flounders and halibut. But sanddabs are tiny compared to those fish.  In the market, they are sold between 4 and 12 ounces each.

During a recent visit with our favorite farmer’s market fishmonger, Pat from Mission Fresh Fish, he had these sanddabs for sale. They were already scaled, gutted, and had the heads removed.  He said the sanddabs were the best tasting fish out of that day’s selection, and recommended them to us.  We originally had our eyes on the halibut but his expert recommendation swayed us.

We picked up a large bag full of them for about $4 per pound.  After we brought the sanddabs home, we washed them and divvied them up into equal lots, one lot to cook and the rest to freeze for later.

As Mum was dividing up the sanddabs, she kept clucking approvingly, proclaiming that these were good fish. Indeed, they were lovely. Caught fresh, the flesh was still springy and smelled of the ocean.  She was getting excited to cook them.

Here’s her simple recipe:

Fried Sanddabs with Garlic and Oyster Sauce


4 Sanddabs, cleaned and patted dry
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil

Sauce Ingredients

4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons water


1. Pour enough vegetable oil into a large frying pan to just cover the bottom. Turn the heat on to medium-high.
2. Coat the sanddabs on both sides with a little bit of cornstarch.
3. When the surface of the oil shimmers, lay the sanddabs down. Be careful not to crowd the pan.
4. Fry the sanddabs until the bottom is golden brown, about 4 minutes.  Flip over and fry the other side until golden.
5. Remove sanddabs from the frying pan and lay them on a plate with paper towels to drain. Continue to fry the remaining fish
6. Pour off most of the frying oil, leaving approximately 1 tablespoon in the pan.  Return the pan to the heat, lowering it to medium.
7. In a small bowl, mix the oyster sauce, sugar and water, and stir to combine.
8. Stir-fry the chopped garlic in the oil until fragrant, about 1 minute.
9. Pour in the oyster sauce mixture and cook it until it starts to thicken, about another minute.
10. Move the drained sanddabs to a platter and pour the garlic and oyster sauce over the fish.

Pouring Garlic and Oyster Sauce on Sanddabs

Pouring sauce on sanddabs

11. Serve warm.

Fried Sanddabs with Garlic and Oyster Sauce

Fried Sanddabs with garlic and oyster sauce

These sanddabs were the bomb!  The flesh was sweet, soft, and moist.  It flaked easily and cleanly off the bone with the push of the fork.  We ate it over rice and it was wonderful.  I had to restrain myself from taking a second sanddab!

So, if you ever see fresh sanddabs in the market, I encourage you to pick them up.  You’ll be glad you did!

Aloha, Nate

11 thoughts on “Fried Sanddabs with Garlic and Oyster Sauce”

  1. >The only place I’ve eaten sand dabs was in San Francisco, and the preparation was so ordinary that I’ve never been drawn to try them again. But I’ll eat almost anything covered in oyster sauce and garlic! Maybe will try this preparation with something I can find at my east coast fishmonger.

  2. >Sand dabs were a favorite of my grandparents and parents. I don’t remember catching them, we must have bought them. Typically dredged in flour, fried and eaten with shoyu.

  3. >Sand dabs! OMG! Last November, my wife and I did a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. In LA, a friend recommended having dinner at Chez Jay in Santa Monica. When my wife saw sand dabs on the menu, the deal was sealed. Amazing and delicate. We can’t get them here in Chicago, but I’m with Lydia–I may have to try your delicious sounding sauce on some other fish.

  4. >Yummy, I do miss fried little fish from Malaysia a lot, which we can’t find the species here. How frustrating.

    My favorite recipe for fried fish is with turmeric powder or tamarind. Yum.

  5. >I don’t think I’ve ever had sanddabs before. . .these little fishies look so good with that garlic and oyster sauce. I don’t think I would have had your self-control not grabbing the second piece. 😉

  6. >@Lydia – actually, I thought the sauce could have been lighter to let the taste of the fish come through. I’m sure you can find some east coast sanddabs.

    @robert – thanks for the idea…we’ll do it that way next time!

    @terry b – It should work on any pan-fried fish. I wonder how well it would with trout.

    @rasa – Hm, another good idea for frying up the next batch!

    @JS – I was being polite with Mum. If Mum weren’t around, I’d have been more aggressive 😉

  7. >Try your mum’s recipe with chilli and a squeeze of lime before serving……I think you may be pleasently surprised.

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