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The aroma of fresh sardines being grilled over hot coals has to be one of my all time favourite cooking sensations and they are simply delicious when lightly coated with olive oil, garlic and fresh parsley.

Sardines may be popular all over Spain, but sardine skewers known as “espetos de sardinas”, are one of the most appreciated delicacies by locals and tourists alike in beach bars and restaurants all along the extensive coast of Malaga. They are cooked on the beach over hot coals and normally each espeto comes with four or five sardines.

It is eaten with your hands with a touch of lemon juice and the locals have an expression to describe this very tasty meal: “está para chuparse los dedos”, basically meaning they are delicious enough to suck your fingers after enjoying them and that is precisely what people do after eating espeto or grilled sardines, it’s almost the best part of the whole experience!

Sardines are named after Sardinia, the Italian island where large schools of these fish were once found. They date back to time immemorial, but it was the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who helped to popularise these little fish by initiating the canning of sardines, the first fish ever to be canned, in order to feed the citizens of the land over which he presided.

When buying sardines, they should have bright eyes and shiny skin, with the scales intact, and pink flesh with a fine, soft texture. Cloudy eyes and discoloured skin are warning signs that the quality of the fish isn’t up to scratch. Ask your local, friendly fishmonger to remove the scales and guts for you and you are ready to get cooking.

The easiest way to do this is to get a griddle pan really hot, rub the fresh sardines with a little oil and some salt and cook straight on the pan until crispy, then turn them over. Add a couple of sliced garlic cloves and a drizzle of olive oil to finish cooking. To check your fish is cooked go to the thickest part of the flesh and it should pinch away easily, leaving the bone. Before serving, squeeze over some lemon juice and maybe some chopped parsley too.

If you prefer sardines without bones, remove the heads and slide your thumb along the backbone to release the flesh along its length. Take hold of the backbone at the head end and lift it out. The fish should now be open flat like a book.

For a really easy recipe: Place them skin side up in the ovenproof dish. Mix a little olive oil, lemon zest and juice in a large bowl and add chopped garlic, parsley, capers, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing all over the fish and sprinkle liberally with breadcrumbs and a little cayenne pepper. Bake in a preheated oven at 200ºC for 10 minutes until golden brown. Another great way to enjoy sardines is the delicious, Spanish classic “Escabeche”, but let’s face it, whichever way you cook them, sardines have it all - they are sustainable, rich in omega-3 fatty acids and have a very big flavour for a very small price.

ESCABECHE OF SARDINES

Ingredients serves 4

12 sardines, cleaned (Gutted, scaled and heads removed)

50g seasoned flour

200ml olive oil

100ml sherry vinegar

1 medium onion, finely chopped

5 garlic cloves, crushed

5 cm strip of Orange Zest

1 sprig of fresh thyme

1 sprig of fresh rosemary

1 fresh bay leaf

4 garlic cloves, crushed

2 dried red chillies

1 teaspoon salt

1 small bunch of fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Dry the sardines, then dust them in the seasoned flour. Fry them in half the olive oil for 1 minute on each side, then transfer to a shallow dish. Add everything except the parsley and the remaining oil to the pan, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 15 minutes. Add the parsley and the rest of the olive oil, pour the hot marinade over the sardines and leave until cold.

Ajo Blanco Malagueño.

AJO BLANCO MALAGUEÑO: CHILLED ALMOND AND GARLIC SOUP WITH MARINATED SARDINES AND CHERRIES

Ajo blanco is a breeze to make and keeps well for 2–3 days in the refrigerator. Sometimes known as gazpacho blanco (white gazpacho), the origins actually predate gazpacho by several centuries and date back to the invasion of the Moors, who we also have to thank for our abundance of almonds here in Mallorca.

Serves 4

180g peeled almonds

3 garlic cloves, peeled

600ml milk

250ml water

50g fresh white bread

150ml olive oil

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

12 fresh cherries, pitted, to garnish

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the marinated sardines:

12 sardines, cleaned and filleted

200g sea salt

200g sugar

200ml olive oil

First, make the marinated sardines. Place the sardine fillets skin-side up on a large dish. Thoroughly combine the salt and sugar and completely cover the sardine fillets with the mixture. Transfer to the refrigerator to marinate for 1–2 hours.

Rinse the marinated sardines in cold water to remove all the salt, then dry with paper towels. Transfer to a clean bowl and cover with olive oil.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the peeled almonds, garlic cloves, milk and water, and cook over a low heat for 30–35 minutes, until the almonds are soft and cooked through. Add the bread and cook for another 3–4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool a little, then transfer to a food processor and blend to a purée. Whisk in the olive oil, season to taste, then pass through a fine sieve (strainer) into a bowl. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3–4 hours.

To serve, pour the chilled ajo blanco into soup bowls and garnish with the marinated sardines and fresh cherries. Serve immediately.

ITALIAN-STYLE STUFFED SARDINES

I love this recipe! It’s a great way to serves sardines as a light supper with a few salad leaves.

Ingredients: serves 4

800g of whole sardines, cleaned, scaled & butterflied (head and spine bone removed, keeping the tails intact)

50g of fine breadcrumbs

1 tbsp olive oil

25g of raisins, soaked in warm water

25g of pine nuts

30g sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

1 tbsp of caster sugar

4 tbsp of parsley, finely chopped

60ml of orange juice, freshly squeezed

1tsp sherry vinegar

Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Grease a baking dish with olive oil and set aside. Rinse the sardines under cold running water then pat dry.

Drain the raisins, squeeze dry, then roughly chop them. Add to the breadcrumbs together with the olive oil, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, sugar, parsley, sherry vinegar and orange juice. Season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Mix all the ingredients together to form a stuffing.

Place a small amount of stuffing over each sardine fillet. Roll up the fillets, starting from the head and moving towards the tail. Arrange the rolled-up sardines, tail-side up, on the greased baking dish. Sprinkle any remaining stuffing over them, then drizzle with olive oil and season with a pinch of salt & pepper.Bake the sardines for 15-20 minutes and serve with salad leaves.