Awhile ago, I organized a deep sea salmon fishing trip for Mark and some of his close buddies for his birthday. Mark loves fishing, but come on, this gift was just as much for me as was for him! In my head, I had these grand fantasies of him busting in the door on Sunday night with a weekend-long scruffy beard, holding an icy cooler packed with salmon, (all of course while still in his waiters).
Sadly, the only thing Mark came home with was an icy chest of sardines! Only two of the six guys who went with him came home with more than that. Of course I was bummed we didn't get to eat salmon, but still just as excited we were able to eat sardines! Even though they are considered fish bait to some people, I'm just smitten about them. I can imagine the confused looks he got from his buddies while he packed the sardines on ice to take home. Are you really keeping those?
It's funny, so many people around the world eat fresh sardines, why do Americans only know to eat them canned? I encourage you to break those rules and try eating them fresh! Sardines are fantastic grilled, battered and fried or smoked. Below is a very rustic preparation, but here are a couple links to some other preparations: Marinated Sardines or Fresh Sardines with Green Harissa
Grilled Sardines with Herb Aioli Dipping Sauce (recipe below)
After you have cleaned and gutted the sardines, they need to be scaled. Use the side of a sharp pairing knife to scrape off loose scales. Give yourself plenty of room as scales will go flying!
Rinse and pat the sardines dry and set aside. Create a lemon-salt and liberally salt the fish inside and out. Let the fish rest with this salt coating for 20 minutes while you get the grill ready or make the dipping sauce. Reserve any remaining lemon-salt.
After 20 minutes, rinse the salt off the sardines and pat dry. Liberally coat the sardines with the fresh herb olive oil and lightly season the fillets with remaining lemon salt and cracked black pepper.
Lightly oil your gas grill. Turn heat to medium-high. Once grill is hot, add seasoned sardines. Cook for approximately two minutes on each side. Brush with any extra herb oil.
The sardines will be cooked when the insides are no-longer pink and their skin takes on a golden-char.
Because of their rich flavor, I like to serve sardines with a salad or grilled vegetables. Pickled beets or a cucumber-vinegar salad would really compliment the oily-richness of the fish and the dipping sauce. Pair with a dry rose or a chilly Riesling or Sauv. Blanc wine.
1 large lemon or 2 small lemons, zested
1/4 cup Kosher salt
Add lemon zest to salt and stir.
Green Onion and Herb Olive Oil
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon green onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients into a bowl and stir. Add more olive oil as needed to coat fish with ease.
Lemon Herb Aioli Dipping sauce
1 egg yolk
1 large lemon, juiced
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (parsely, oregano)
salt and pepper to taste
*optional- capers for garnish
Add the egg yolk, lemon juice, garlic and Dijon in a blender or food processor (or use a whisk and elbow grease!) and pulse to combine. While the blender or food processor is running, slowly pour in the oils. Turn off the motor once the mixture has firmed up to the consistency of mayonnaise. Stir in herbs and capers. Adjust seasoning with lemon and herbs. Keep cold until serving.