Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Grilled Sardines with Garlic Scape Salsa Verde

Well, tomorrow morning I go under the knife. The dentist's knife that is; a major cause for anxiety. My wisdom teeth have to go. Yes, I know it's a very routine thing. However, to have a gang of masked marauders up to their elbows in my gullet, poking about, ripping bits out and so on is simply not a pleasant prospect. So I treated tonight as a sort last supper, you know, just in case I don't make it.

There's nothing I love more than taking small things from the ocean like a little squid, a scallop, an oyster, and even very small fish, and grilling then in a very hot barbecue. It is the kind of meal that makes me happy for its inherent fiddliness in the preparation. I also find it is an excellent opportunity to introduce assertive flavours like flaky Maldon salt, chillies, capers, garlic and a beautiful Spanish paprika or pimenton. I served these little fishies with a sort of salsa made from segmented lemons, chopped garlic scapes, parsley and capers. Sardines are delicious, this is undeniable, but they are bit tricky to eat and you really have to accept the fact that you're going to be eating some little bones: it's just part of the process. Sardines aren't for everyone but if you fancy an adventure, give them a go. They are extremely healthy, sustainable to the oceans and have a wonderfully oily, umami-rich flavour. It's just those bones...some practice is required to work around those bones. Using one's fingers to pick off the flesh: allowed. 

Grilled Sardines with Lemon-Garlic Scape Salsa Verde

6 fresh sardines
1 large lemon
2 garlic scapes
1 good bunch of parsley
12 or so capers
1 clove of garlic
1 tbs of Spanish Paprika (Pimenton)
1 tsp of dried chili flakes
1 tsp of whole fennel seeds
Some olive oil
Maldon salt

First clean your sardines. Sometimes they come cleaned and head removed, but not always. Mine were not, so this is what you need to do. First, using the dull side of paring knife blade, gently scrape the scales off the fish (you'll have to be do all this in a sink, it gets a bit messy). Give them a rinse, and then using your paring knife (make sure it's sharp), make an incision in the fish's belly by starting at the small opening toward the tail (I can barely bring myself to type the word 'anus' when talking about food, but that is what that hole is), slice along the belly untill you reach the base of the fish's head. Then reach in with your fingers and start yanking out the guts. I know this sounds horrible, but I find it rewarding as it reminds me that this was a living a creature and I am doing the processing myself and not some factory worker somewhere. Also, fish that still have guts inside are fresh. Trust me. Anyway, once of the guts are out, give everything a really good rinse in clean, cold water, and get the fish on some paper towel to dry a bit. In the mean time, make your marinade. Put the fennel seeds, the paprika, half of the capers, the chili flakes, the garlic, a drizzle of the oil and a good pinch of the salt and pepper in a pestle and mortar. Bash that all up until it resembles a paste. Then gently score your fish four or five times along each fillet and then start rubbing the marinade into the fish. Once they are all sufficiently slathered, let them rest in the fridge for about 15 minutes. While they're marinating make your salsa verde. Zest the lemon and then segment it (if you don't know how to segment citrus fruit, click here ). Cut each segment width-wise so they are bite sized and then get them in a bowl with the zest, followed by a good whack of finely chopped parsley, finely chopped garlic scapes (use one clove of regular garlic if you can't find the scapes), the rest of the capers (roughly chopped), along with some more olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients to combine and then get your salsa in the fridge to stay fresh. Then take out your fish and them on to a well-oiled medium-hot grill. They only need about three minutes per side, but be very gentle when turning them; they are very delicate. A proper fish slice works wonders in situations like this. After the flip, squeeze some lemon on the fish. Once done, get them on to a plate and serve with the lemon salsa verde piled on top of the smokey, salty sardines.

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