Friday, April 15, 2016

Pan-fried Sardines #FishFridayFoodies

Pan-fried sardines cooked quickly and simply in a drizzle of almost smoking hot olive oil, with a good sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, are a delight to eat. You can taste the sea. 

Sardines, if you can find them fresh, are usually one of the least expensive of fish at the fish market. In fact, when we lived in Singapore, where local fish was abundant and mostly inexpensive, the markets never seemed to sell sardines. I finally started asking around to find out why because when we lived across the causeway in Malaysia, they were always available. These were the same fishing waters, right? Why would Singapore not have sardines?

What I found out is that it wasn’t worth the small price the fishermen would get for them in Singapore, so they didn’t bother bringing the sardines to market. Apparently the Malaysian fishermen, with lower living expenses, could make enough for their needs. As much as we enjoyed our year and a half in Singapore, I was thrilled when we were transferred back to Kuala Lumpur. Ah, fresh sardines again!

If you'd like to read about the first time I ever ate whole fresh sardines - not from a can - it was on a holiday in Portugal. I talk about recreating the piri piri chicken, but we've been eating the sardines ever since too. Sometimes grilled but most often pan-fried.

This month my Fish Friday Foodies group is being hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla. She set us the task of cooking whole fish or seafood, head to tail or head to tentacle, whichever the case may be. It was a toss up for me between imported whole pink trout, which we have every time I see it in my local market, (Perhaps once a month. It’s not cheap so it’s a treat.) or sardines, which are always available and inexpensive. All of the sardines I cooked for this post cost me Dhs. 7.50 or only two dollars total.

Count on at least three or four pan-fried sardines per person, depending on size for a main course. Two per person as an appetizer.

1 1/2 lbs or 675g small sardines (sometimes I get six or eight, depending on size, for the two of us)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

To serve:
Lemon or lime wedges
Chopped cilantro

Optional to serve: fresh French radishes

Use a sharp knife with a pointy tip to cut open the belly of the fish.

Gently scrape out all the stuff inside the cavity and discard.

Rinse the sardine under cool tap water to clean it out completely. Repeat until all the sardines are clean inside.

Smaller sardines won’t have any hard scales but sometimes ones that are a little larger do. Run your knife blade sideways up from the tail to the head to check. If there are a few scales, put the sardine in your sink with some cool water and scrape upwards to remove them.

Lay the cleaned sardines on some dry paper towels and allow them to drain.

Salt liberally inside and out with some sea salt and a few good grinds of black pepper.

Drizzle olive oil in your non-stick pan and heat over a medium high heat.

When the oil is quite hot, but not quite smoking, put the sardines in, alternating head to tail so they fit in the pan. If you are cooking more than will fit comfortably, fry them in batches rather than crowding the pan.

Cook for 3-4 minutes on the first side, then gently turn the sardines over to the other.

Cook for another 3-4 minutes on the other side.

Turn again for perhaps one more brief minute on the first side. For fish as small as these sardines, that’s usually long enough, with a few minutes resting time after, to be fully cooked. If you have any doubts, poke a pointy knife in just behind the head to check. The flesh should be white and no longer translucent.

Transfer the sardines to a warm platter and scatter with chopped cilantro. Arrange a few lemon or lime wedges around the platter so each person can add some juice, if he or she so chooses. The radishes are optional, but we love their spicy crunch with bites of sardine that taste freshly of the sea.


Check out all of the lovely whole fish or seafood recipes we've cooked for you today. We hope they will inspired you in the kitchen!


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