Yay! Holiday time! Been a frantic last few days and nights but now I get to slow down down down! Anyway, yesterday, where I work we had a fabulous lunch out in the scintillating sunshine that showered down on all and sundry. And our catering manager, top bloke, Andy Wright, had ordered a large box of fresh sardines. This is a picture of my second. Grilled to perfection and then a lemon, parsley and rock salt mix scattered over. They just melted in the mouth and, accompanied by a glass or two…maybe more…I forget, of ice cold white wine they were the perfect lunch. I love sardines. Love them. If you are interested please, please see my post on these delicious fish from April.
Right, I’m off to swelter somewhere in my garden. Looking forward to some serious blogging. Hey…and I will be the blogger of the day on Gourmandize UK on July 9th. Please give the interview a read if you get the chance!
One dish using tinned sardines that has always been a cheap and delicious stand by for me is one I created years ago when times were hard – cue violins and characters dressed in Dickensian rags. Well, they were not that hard, but you know what I mean – penny-pinching, struggling student etc etc….yawn,, get on with it! OK… Basically, it is pasta with a sardine sauce.
Tin of sardines in oil or tomato / Capers / pinch of dried oregano /Chilli flakes/ Olive oil / Tomato puree or sauce / Spaghetti / Salt and pepper.
Strip the spines out of the sardines and add to a bowl. Add a good teaspoon of rinsed capers, a glug of olive oil, a sprinkle of chilli flakes, the oregano and a dash of salt and pepper. Mix together, breaking up the sardines. Add a dash of tomato puree or tomato sauce. Stir into hot spaghetti and you will not regret it! Sometimes I add a few fresh herbs that might be loitering with intent – e.g. basil or dill or coriander – all work well.
And, smelly as they are when cooking, it is worth giving the fresh ones a go. Open all the windows first though and warn the neighbours! Sprinkle them with rock salt and leave for an hour or two in a coldish place. Whatever you choose to cook them on, griddle pan, frying pan, plancha or barbecue, ensure the pan is very hot before starting. Take the sardines from the salt but do not brush off all the salt. Cook them for 4 minutes per side, but do not lift them whilst they are cooking. Be brave! If you move them too much they will split. Once you reckon they are a little burnt, turn them over and cook the same way. Serve with fresh lemon. Folk in the med do not gut or fillet the sardines. No need. Though I see that supermarkets are now selling them ready gutted, which might be up your street. However, whole ones taste best to me.
The grilled or barbecued sardines in Greece, just like all over the med are tender and sweet. I tried them for the first time in my life out in Greece 30 odd years ago (very odd at times!) and I have loved them ever since. I have tried barbecuing them at home but only our good Spanish friends, Carnita and Fernando, do them like they do abroad. No idea why. Just one of those magic touch things some people have with simple ingredients. Whilst I am on the sardine subject, I just want to clear up a confusion that puzzled me for years and may be something you are not sure of either. What IS the difference between a pilchard and a sardine?? Well, the short answer is that a sardine is a young pilchard and a pilchard is a grown up sardine. So there.
However, pilchard actually only refers to one species, Sardina pilchardus ( I promise I have not made this up ), which has a range extending further north than other sardines, indeed not only to the south of England, where pilchard fishing is important, but far beyond, even as far as Norway. They can grow as long as 10 inches or 25 centimeters. Canned sardines are possibly one of the few canned products which have their own following of connoisseurs. They even have vintage years. I kid you not!
The competition between French, Spanish and the Portuguese producers is pretty intense. The late great cookery writer Elizabeth David wrote a marvellous essay in 1984 on the subject in her book ‘An Omelette and a Glass of Wine.’ If you do not own a copy go out and buy one asap…or order it on
line. She wrote about the history of the canning industry in Nantes in France.
Apparently, the first sardine-tinning factory was established in Nantes way back in 1824. A guy called Joseph Colin discovered that olive oil made a better preserving agent than the previously used butter and adapted the tinning process of a colleague who worked in the confectionery business to sardines, which had previously been preserved in jars and bottles. In 1830 a restaurateur called Millet turned his establishment into a sardine canning factory, but as it was slap bang in the middle of Nantes, the smell of frying fish not surprisingly, upset the locals. He was taken to court and had to move his factory to the outskirts of town. David tells of how the French had a monopoly on canning the fish for 50 years until the Spanish and Portuguese got in on the act. Anyway, go and read the essay for yourself; ’tis quite a history!