Delicious, nutritious and SO easy to prepare. I remember as a kid, we went fishing several times off of piers and caught huge sardines. Not the size you see these days in stores. They were about 2 times larger. Then my grandmother prepared them by frying them, then pickling them in vinegar, adding red chiles and sliced onions. Delicious. If you've never eaten a sardine before, they are very fatty(really high in Omega 3s) and due to the high fat/oil content, they have a stronger taste. The vinegar preparation works great because it helps cut through the richness of the sardine.
I've read online about people complaining that they've heard the wonders of sardines and then when they buy them, they can't get past the many bones in there and then swear not to ever eat them again.
Whiners I say.
In many different countries, they are cooked whole and enjoyed quite a bit. Italy comes to mind. Grilled fresh sardines with nothing but a bit of olive oil and sea salt. I've prepared them this way on the BBQ during the summer and they are delicious.
If you get sardines directly from a boat, they should be much more firm and if you're really good with a fillet knife, you can fillet them. This method I'm going to describe is just much easier and faster.
So, if you want to take a leap of faith and join us, meaning the people who love sardines.....take a gander at how to remove most of the bones below.
Sardines are small fish and consequently, have small bones to match. You're never going to be able to get rid of ALL of the bones. I learned this method from Monica Galetti, Senior Sous Chef at Michelle Roux's 2 Michelin Star London restaurant, Le Gavroche.
-4-5 fresh sardines
-1 heirloom tomato
1. Fresh sardines. Make sure your sardines are scaled and not too soft. Sardines tend to get really soft if out of the water too long and they can get completely mushy if not stored correctly. These are in average/above average condition.
2. Remove head and scrape the cavity to remove all entrails.
3. Lay the sardine flat on its belly on the cutting board.
4. Now, this is where the magic happens. With your fingers, gently press down on the back/vertebrae of the sardine. This actually puts pressure of the vertebrae and as a result, the vertebrae AND rib bones pop out from the flesh and distance themselves with the flesh. If you listen closely, you'll hear this happening.
5. Rib cage bones popped out of the flesh.
6. Now, place your fingers between the vertebrae and flesh. Pull all of the bones away from the flesh. Then when you reach the tail, use your sharp knife and then cut the tail and bones away from the flesh at the tail end.
Most of the bones removed! Now, remember, there will still be some really tiny, tiny pinbones, but they are so fine and small that you can't even really notice them compared to the ones that you've just removed.
7. Sardine prepped and ready to cook!
If you are extremely lucky and can get fresh sardines directly from a boat, then get them. I got these at Whole Foods and they were in average/above average condition. How can you tell by looking at this picture? Look at the belly. The belly tends to tear like that when the fish isn't right out of the water and has been iced for several days.
8. Dice tomatoes to a medium size since you want some contrasting texture. For the shallots, I almost brunoise them because nobody likes getting a mouthful of a large onion/shallot chunk. Mix tomatoes, shallots, olive oil and capers in a bowl. Season with salt and white pepper. In a hot pan on medium high, add a drizzle of olive oil. Season your sardines on both sides with sea salt and white pepper. The sardines will cook REALLY fast, so only about 30 seconds on each side. Place sardines in the hot pan for 30 seconds on each side. Place tomato/caper mixture on a plate and place sardines on top.