Saturday, March 3, 2012

Marinated Sardines

Back when I was little and watching cartoons, there was often a can of sardines shown in gags such as the fish jumping out of the can and dancing or whatever. Until about 10 years ago that's about as much exposure that I'd ever had to sardines. Then I was at Gennaro's restaurant in the Upper West Side in NYC with my wife and some friends and saw a sardines dish listed on the board. For some reason it intrigued me so I included them along with all of the other dishes we ordered for the table. Man what a revelation! I loved them and couldn't believe I'd never really had a chance to try them before.

Since then every time I go into the Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley I check the display to see if any fresh sardines are in. I've made several dishes with them including a take on La Ciccia's amazing roasted sardines in tomato sauce, stuffed sardines from Mark Bittman's book Fish and a few other recipes I've found online as well as some dishes I've riffed myself.

I think this dish is based on one I saw from Bittman - a simple marinade or ceviche that can sit in the frig for a few days. It may be able to store longer but I never let them get that far. :-)

Several medium-sized fresh sardines (definitely not canned!)
4-6 cloves garlic peeled and sliced thinly
Juice from 4-5 lemons
1/3 cup olive oil
Fresh cracked black pepper

Scale the fish, if necessary, by holding it under running water and running the back end of a paring knife from tail to head scraping off the scales. Run your thumb down the gut from head to tail to open a slit. Then while pinching the back of the neck with one hand, pull down the head in one motion towards the stomach pulling the spine with it through to separate the meat from the skeleton. Since you're pulling the backbone down through the opening in the gut you just made, the intestines should separate out with the spine. At this point you should have the fillet in one hand and the skeleton in the hand you pulled it with. (It's a very easy process once you're familiar with it but I'll be making a video soon to demonstrate and will post a link here when it's published.)
Once you've filleted the sardines, pat them dry with paper towels and set aside. In a wide shallow container, lay down one layer of fillets, salt and pepper them, pour a third of the lemon juice to cover, spread a third of the garlic slices over it, then pour a third of the olive oil to cover. Proceed to layer a couple of more times with the next layer of fillets, seasoning, juice, garlic and oil. 
Cover and refrigerate for a few hours up to a few days.

I hope I've described the method clearly enough, don't hesitate to ask questions if it's a little confusing. Once you've done it, you'll find it pretty simple and easy to prepare.

Hey, while you're checking out this post, please feel free to drop a comment below! It would be great to know what you think about this dish, if you've tried cooking it yourself, or are planning to. A little feedback goes a long way!

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