These Portuguese sardines are an ode to summer. If I have to let go of summer, I must do it right, with herbs, citrus, summer squash and Mediterranean fish grilled to perfection. Sardines are a fishy fish and if you don’t have ventilation and you’re using an indoor grill (like a Cuisinart or Foreman) these guys have a way of lingering (sorry, neighbors). Working as a fish monger in high school got me over my fish prejudices very quickly. I scaled and and cleaned these like a champ and ate them with abandon.
Last time I tried making fresh sardines I baked them. They lost all structure and were unservable. Working cautiously and tenderly around my convalescing self-esteem, the wounded guest in the room, I put the sardines aside and vowed to try again next year. Well, if you follow the method in this recipe you will be greatly rewarded. I sprinkled them lightly with salt and pepper, drizzled them with olive oil and then grilled them to perfection. Create your citrus sauce with garlic and herbs (some of my favorite flavor combinations), and lay it all over a bed of grilled zucchini (preferably a giant one from your friend’s garden), serve with a sparkling rosé and you will feel like you are sitting along the Mediterranean, where the blue sea glitters, watching the boats go by with the breeze against your face.
This is what I love about cooking. It’s cyclical just like the seasons. With each change and each tradition that comes there is something new to learn. I plan to make Ngan’s challah this week as my first foray into bread-making and to give it as a gift. I’m very excited about this. There’s so much I love about fall, but it’s a season of contemplation, a dangerous thing for someone with artistic and self-reflective tendencies. From a certain angle, fall seems calm, warm and tender, the earth begins producing wonderful things that will get even better with winter. The waters are still warm, the days still inviting. Each night is redolent and composed, the coolness bringing the need for the comforts of light jackets and blankets. Yet, underneath it for me, there radiates a slight tension, as if my internal landscape has been built upon the skin of a balloon and someone is inflating it toward the breaking point. That someone is me, of course. I fear the winter and even though, in many ways fall is more interesting than summer, something like me sags like a sail as I drag myself towards acceptance and I have to paddle just a little harder to stay ahead of it. I’ve got some pretty great meals planned out with fall ingredients, some trips in the works to keep me connected to the world and a pretty cool routine to keep me grounded. And best of all, I’m armed with recipes like this one that can transport me to where I want to be in under an hour. Make this. Enjoy it. And if you don’t love sardines, I’ve got a sandwich in the works that will change your mind.
Grilled Sardines & Zucchini w/ Citrus, Herbs, & Chilis Adapted from Mark Bittman
- 1 large seasonal squash
- 4 to 8 scaled, gutted whole sardines
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 fresh red chilis, seeded and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 bunch mint
- ½ bunch cilantro
- 1 bunch chives
- 2 sprigs tarragon
- 3 cups assorted citrus segments(orange, grapefruit, pomelo, etc.)
Prepare a medium-hot grill.
Brush the sardines with a small amount of olive oil, and season with salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes.
Brush the chopped zucchini with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper as well.
Pound the garlic with a mortar and pestle until it is a roughish purée. Chop the herbs. Mix the chiles, garlic and herbs with enough olive oil and orange juice to make a thick, but pourable sauce. Add a pinch of salt, and taste.
Put the sardines on the grill, and cook until fairly brown and halfway done. Carefully flip them over, and grill on the other side. Larger sardines will take 3 or 4 minutes on each side, smaller ones about 2 minutes on each side. Grill the asparagus for about the same time. If you’re using an inside grill like mine (Cuisinart/Foreman) and don’t want to clean immediately, you can just bake the zucchini at 400F for 30 mins, covered while you’re preparing everything else).
Spread the citrus on a platter, and lightly season with salt. Place the hot sardines and zucchini on top of the citrus. Spoon over some of the herby chili sauce. Serve the remaining sauce on the side.