Week of March 28: Sweet and Sour Sardines

960_centanniWhen Edward makes a batch of tripe it usually has a few incarnations during the week. He boiled and sliced a couple of pounds of tripe from Biancardi’s this week, then cooked it in beef stock, with frozen cranberries and onions, then added cabbage and potatoes and garnished with parmesan. Then, the next day, he added water to turn the tripe stew into a soup.

The soft shell crabs are just coming in, and Edward has been eating them, though frugally, as they are pricey. Mainly he fries them, but other times he sautés them with oil, garlic, and lemon juice. Cleaning a crab is easy: you cut off the face with culinary scissors, removed the belly flap, and snip off the gills. The crabs on Arthur Avenue are pretty perky—which is not saying much. Soft shell crabs can’t even summon the strength to pinch. Now that the Tinker mackerel and sardines on almost done, Edward has added skate wing to his regular rotation. He’s into frying it: he cuts the wing into large pieces, soaks them in milk, then dredge in flour and fries them in vegetable oil until golden. It is the end of the Maine sardine season, and Edward’s last hurrah was to pickle them. I’ve enjoyed dish, know as Sarde in Saor, in Venice, served on pasta, but Edward first had it in Genoa. “I’ll tell you a story about Sweet and sour sardines,” he said over coffee at Tino’s.

“I was living in Florence and a painting of mine got into an exhibition in Bordighera, across the border from Nice. So a friend and I decided to go to the exhibition. In those days you bought your ticket on the train, and after we’d gone about three quarters of the way, we hadn’t seen the conductor. We figured if we played our cards right, we could get away without paying at all. As the train pulled into the station, we noticed there station was fenced in and people were passing through an entrance gate where a man was collecting tickets. Of course we didn’t have any, so we walked back down the tracks and started climbing the tall fence. We were about halfway up when two policemen yelled at us. We pretended we couldn’t speak Italian. When the policemen found out we had paintings in the exhibit, however, they said Oh, how wonderful! You are guests of the city. They set us up in a hotel and took us to lunch. That’s where I first had sarde in saor, as an appetizer.”

He served the sardines once, on top of bucatini pasta, and then again, tossed with warm boiled potatoes, and then a third time, tossed with the last of his frozen cannelloni beans, cooked until tender.

Sweet and Sour Sardines
This is a pickle, which is why the dish holds in the fridge well for up to two weeks. Photo: Ben Fink
Makes 12 fillets, enough for 6 servings

1 pound sardines (about 12 6-inch fish), heads removed and gutted
12 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium white onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons golden raisins, soaked for a few minutes in warm water
Flour for dredging
Vegetable oil for frying (not olive oil—it’s too heavy)
Salt and hot pepper flakes to taste

To butterfly the sardines, cut along the belly and remove the innards and the gills but leave the heads on. Open the fish as you would a book and press the sides of
the  fish back until the spine bulges forward. Pull the spine up and out of the fish and discard. Or ask your fishmonger to butterfly the sardines.

Heat the oil in a medium sized skillet over a medium heat. Add the onions and
cook them for about 6 minutes, until they begin to brown. Add the vinegar and raisins. Boil gently for 5 minutes over a medium heat.

Dredge the butterflied fillets in flour. Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a medium sized non-stick skillet over a high heat. When it is hot (which you can determine by throwing
a pinch of flour into the oil: if it boils the oil is ready) add the sardines. Fry the sardines until they are golden brown, about 2 minutes on one side and 1 minute on the other. They will shrink in size. It’s okay. Drain the sardines on paper towels or brown paper bags.

Photo: Ben Fink

In a plastic container or glass bowl with a fitted top lay down one layer of the fried fish. Spoon a layer of the onion and vinegar mixture on top. Sprinkle with salt and hot pepper flakes. Repeat with the remaining fish and onions. Place the top on the container and store in a cool place—not the fridge. I put mine in my 24-bottle wine cave. (Yes, I have one—and it’s the greatest.)

Age for 2 days. After which, refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Sweet and Sour Sardines with Beans
Serves 4

1 1/2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked over night and drained
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 fresh medium tomato, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped (or a pinch dried)
4 sardine fillets, with onion and raisins
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leafed parsley

Place the beans in a medium sized pot with a fitted cover. Add water to cover, bay leaf, and salt. Bring to a boil over a high heat, then turn down the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 35 minutes, until the beans are almost cooked. Drain the beans. Remove the bay leaf.

Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, basil, and rosemary. Cover, lower the heat to medium low, and simmer for 5 minutes, until the tomatoes break up. Add the beans. Cover and simmer until the beans are very tender, about 10 minutes. If the sauce is dry add a little water.

Place the sardine fillets with onion and raisins in a small non-stick skillet and heat over a medium heat until warm.

Ladle the beans onto a serving platter. Place the sardines with onions and raisins on top of the beans. Garnish with the parsley.

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