Bless those saints
THE SARDINE SEASON IS OFFICIALLY OPEN! WITH JUNE COME THE FESTIVITIES AROUND THE PAGAN SAINTS OF PORTUGAL THAT OPENS OUR SARDINE SEASON, CULMINATING IN THE FATTEST SARDINES BY THE END OF AUGUST. THIS MONTH I’M GOING TO TRY TO PASS ON CENTURIES OF KNOWLEDGE OF HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR SARDINES, LIGHT YOUR BBQ, GRILL THEM AND EAT THEM, SO HOLD TIGHT, IT’S GOING TO BE A FUN ONE
First things first
Sardines provide plenty of essential nutrients, earning them a place close to the top of the lists for superfoods you should be eating. These nutritional powerhouses may have a bit of a bad reputation due to their strong taste and smell, but if you know what to do with them, you’ll be able to reap the potential health benefits of these small fish.
Sardines are supercharged with vitamins like B-12 and D linked to health benefits against cancer, heart disease and also arthritis. You’ll also find minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorus and potassium, that will help keep good bone structure and muscle function but also in the production of red blood cells and blood pressure.
And last but not least we cannot forget the omega-3 fats that protect you against heart disease.
Sardines are also among the fish with the lowest presence of mercury making them one of the safest fish to eat.
Visiting your Fishmonger
When going out to buy your sardines it’s really important to know what you are looking for but in true honesty nothing beats a good trustworthy fishmonger, so my first advice is to buy from someone locally, that you or someone you know has good experience with and ask for his advice.
However it is up to you to know what you’re buying so here is the crash course on sardine choosing:
Choose small fish – the smaller the fish, the tastier and fattier it will be. There is even a saying in Portugal that goes something like this: “The woman and the sardine should always be small”, meaning that they will be the tastier and softer.
The skin should be shiny without discolouration – a dull skin indicates that is not fresh.
The gills should be bright red – if brownish or pinkish, the fish won’t be fresh.
The eyes must be bright with a transparent cornea and black pupil – avoid fish with hollow eyes, bloody cornea and / or grey and distorted pupil.
The scales should be stuck on – If there are scales missing or broken it may mean the fish has not been handled properly
The flesh should be firm, when you pick up the fish lightly it should feel firm – time softens the fish, so the firmer the fresher.
It should smell of the sea – if it smells sour or of ammonia, it indicates that the quality may be compromised.
Take it home and keep it cool.
Now that you have your fish you’d better head home. Gently place them into a cooler bag, so the heat doesn’t change the properties and quality of the sardines.
Sardines should always be prepared and eaten on the day you’ve bought them, so place them in the fridge and leave them there up to 20 minutes before you cook them.
You can save them for the next day if you really have to, so place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator – which is generally the shelf above the drawer for vegetables.
For longer periods, it is advisable to freeze. To do so, wash the sardines and use bags suitable for freezing, close them well to prevent the fish from drying out and becoming yellow; place them side by side to avoid overcrowding. Label the bag with the date on which they were frozen in order to control the time – save sardines in the freezer up to 2 months. Keep your freezer at a temperature below -18 ° C.
Now it’s time to pre-pare you barbeque so get ready:
Get some proper coals – they will burn for longer at a higher temperature.
The grill should be clean and be heated on the flames for several minutes – it should be really hot to avoid the fish sticking to the grill.
The coals should burn 30 min-utes prior to receiving the first sardines – there should be no flames at the time you put your sardines on.
Remove the sardines from the fridge 20 minutes before you grill them. Place them in a wide tray and grab a big handful of coarse sea salt.
Sprinkle generously all over and leave them alone until it’s all ready to go.
Ok, everybody ready? Let’s do this.
Sardines are cooked whole – that means no removing scales or guts, just leave them in.
Contrary to popular belief you never add any oil to the fish before baking or even on the grill – sardines are fatty enough.
Sardines cook in a short time – 3 minutes each side is normally sufficient. If you leave it for too long you’ll get a dry sardine, and no one likes a dry sardine.
Watch out for flames that form as the oil drips from the sardine – if this happens, lift the grill up until the flames die.
Do not splash with water.
Sardines are traditionally eaten on a slice of bread that acts like a plate. The idea is that you place your sardine on your bread, peel the skin, pick the flesh out using your hands, and move on to the next sardine. By the end of your meal your bread will have absorbed all those lovely sardine juices and it will be the ultimate treat.
Sardines are also served with boiled new potatoes, fresh tomato salads and roasted bell peppers.
And since you made such an effort to prepare this lovely meal you deserve that cold white wine that goes so well with sardines.
HOW TO REMOVE THE SMELL OF GRILLED FISH
Even if we do it outside, inevitably the smell enters the house or sticks to our hands! There are numerous home-made, economic ways to deal with this, so here are a few that you might want to try:
Rub your hands with lemon, vinegar or baking soda – make sure your hands are wet when you do this.
For containers and utensils, use salt or baking soda mixed with water – Place the salt or baking soda in the sink and cover with water, place all other utensils inside.
Rub coffee grounds on the containers and utensils – then wash normally.
To eliminate the fishy smell of a grill, leave the grill over the fire until all debris burn – then wipe it with sheets of newspaper and wash it off with cold water.
To clear the air in the kitchen, boil sliced lemons or lemon juice during and after preparation of the fish – you can use orange instead of lemon.
Another option is to boil a cinnamon stick with the peel and juice of a lemon.
Light a beeswax candle.