Italiando

Summer’s end sardines

In a final ode to summer, I thought I’d share one of my favorite dishes to make on the grill: sardines!

Grilled fresh sardines are a popular summer dish in the Mediterranean, particularly in Portugal, where the fish is prepared all over Lisbon on June 13th, the feast day of Saint Anthony. Legend has it that in Rimini, Italy during the 13th-century, St. Anthony was having trouble catching the attention of the townspeople with his sermons. Feeling dejected, he walked to the seashore and started preaching to the fish. Lo and behold, rows and rows of sardines stuck their heads out of the water to listen to him, drawing the attention of the Rimini locals, who were moved to convert by the miracle.

Here in the States, we still seem to lack faith in sardines. Many home cooks limit their use of the fish to the canned variety, and only recently have I noticed grilled fresh versions popping up on more restaurant menus. It’s time to liberate sardines from their tins!

Besides their salty deliciousness, there are several reasons to cook and eat sardines. The fish are rich in B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, among a host of other nutrients. They’re also an environmentally friendly choice, since they are plentiful, fished sustainably, and lower on the food chain than much sought-after tuna and salmon. The Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, a handy resource when thinking about what fish to buy, classifies them as an underutilized resource. Converted yet?

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About an hour or so before you plan to start up the grill (charcoal works best), gut your sardines, leaving the rest of the fish intact, and marinade them in some olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Once your grill reaches high heat, grill the sardines about 3 minutes per side. When the skin becomes crispy enough, the fish shouldn’t stick to the grates and should flip easily.

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I like to serve grilled sardines with salsa verde, an Italian-style green sauce made with parsley, anchovies, and capers (not to be confused with the Mexican version of the same name made with tomatillos). The anchovies and capers highlight the sardines’ briny flavor, while the fresh parsley offers a nice counterpoint to the charred skin.

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For the salsa verde you’ll need:
A bunch of fresh parsley
1/2 cup of capers
2-3 anchovy fillets (the kind jarred in olive oil)
A couple of garlic cloves
A dash of vinegar (I’d go with white wine vinegar here)
About 1/4 cup olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Depending on what kind of consistency you prefer (and how willing you are to wash kitchen equipment), you can combine all the ingredients in a food processor to achieve a smoother paste, or finely chop everything together by hand. I like to pile parsley, capers, anchovies, and garlic on a cutting board and chop them with a mezzaluna (“half moon”) knife. Then, after I’ve reached my limit of chopping and decide it’s fine enough for me, I transfer the ingredients to a bowl, stirring in a dash of white wine vinegar, some olive oil, and salt & pepper.

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