Dabs are small flatfish and can make a tasty and cheaper alternative to some of the more luxurious flatfish such as Dover and lemon sole. You normally need to serve a couple of these per portion as dabs tend to be on the small size. There's a few other small flatfish which would also make a great alternative species, such as witch soles, sand soles and Torbay soles, all of which make for very good eating as well as giving the more common species a bit more of a chance to recover, too.
Monk's beard, known as agrette or barbe di fratte in Italy, is a spindly green vegetable that goes perfectly with fish; or it can be simply tossed into a salad or cooked in butter and served as a vegetable. You can buy it from Booths in London's Borough Market (020-7378 8666); or order your own pot to grow from laurelfarmherbs.co.uk.
8 small dabs weighing 150g each or 4 larger fish with dark skin removed and fins trimmed
Flour for dusting
3-4tbsp vegetable or corn oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
16-20 large whelks
10 black peppercorns
1tsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
200g monk's beard, roots trimmed and washed
The juice of half a lemon
Soak the whelks in a bowl of cold salted water for about an hour; rinse well. Place in a pan, cover with cold water, add about half a tablespoon of salt, the peppercorns, fennel seeds and bay leaf, bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat, leave to cool in the liquid for 30 minutes, then drain in a colander.
Remove the whelks from the shells with a cocktail stick and discard the hard piece of shell on the end of the whelk. Slice the whelks into two or three slices and put to one side.
Heat a large frying pan, or two if you have them, with some of the vegetable oil. Lightly flour the dabs and season. Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, adding a couple of knobs of butter during cooking, until they're a golden colour. You may need to do this in two or three batches. Once cooked, keep them warm in a low oven. Heat the rest of the butter in one of the frying pans; gently heat the whelks and monk's beard for a couple of minutes. Season, add the lemon juice; serve the dabs on warmed plates with the whelks and monk's beard spooned over.