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 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, 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 popularize 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 lets 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.
GRILLED MACKEREL WITH LEMON SAMPHIRE & CHERRY TOMATO-CAPER SALSA
Ingredients serves 4
4 Spanish mackerel
300g Samphire, washed & trimmed
Lemon wedges for serving
Cherry tomato-caper salsa
3tbs olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
300g cherry tomatoes, halved
Juice of one lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Bring a pan water to the boil and cook the samphire for 2 minutes and drain.
In a bowl, toss the cherry tomatoes, capers and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper.
Score the mackerel on both sides at 2cm intervals almost down to the bone.
Brush them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over a high heat for 6-7 minutes, turning once, until lightly charred and cooked through. Transfer the fish to plates with the samphire and top with the salsa. Serve with lemon wedges.