These are really nice as starters, a snack or a light meal. I was reminded of how good they are when Marta Camacho made them at the farm the summer I went to collect Kofi (2018). At that time, she did them with fresh anchovies.
Sardines always remind me of when the three of us first went to Tavira in Portugal. We stayed at the converted convent which we had had trouble finding before asking for directions in a little souvenir shop. The owner shut up shop immediately and insisted on driving her own car for us to follow to take us there. I remember telling you both at the time to always remember such kindness and to trust in people, wherever you are.
Pretty much on the first day, we stumbled across the room within the old yacht club around the corner which served as a restaurant. Not many tables, it was always packed and we would go in at lunchtimes – it didn’t open in the evenings – and be offered a choice of meat or fish. We always chose the fish by going to see what they had in the kitchen. At the end of each meal (we had several there), we would guess at how (remarkably) cheap the meal would be – usually about 8 or 9 euros for the three of us with coke or fanta for you and some lovely local dry white wine for me. Most of the fish was simply grilled with a bit of salt not flour, but small fish are sometimes nicer with flour, I think. After our lunches, we would get the little ferry over to the long beach on the island. They would serve the fish with the simplest of tomato salads – chopped up good tomatoes with olive oil, a tiny splash of white wine vinegar, which you don’t really need, dried oregano and salt.
Butterflied Sardines (or other small fish like anchovies, whitebait or sprats)
White Flour (if using flour at all)
Lemon to serve (optional)
You can usually buy sardines that the fishmonger has already butterflied. If not, it is quite easy. Take a filleted sardine, head off and gently press along the spine with the palm of your hand to flatten it. If you have bought or caught very small fish, the size of whitebait, you can leave the bone in (or don’t bother butterflying them all).
Mix the salt into a small bowl of flour and coat each sardine with it before frying in good quality very hot olive oil both sides until golden brown.
If you don’t want to use flour, you can just place each on under a grill for about 5 to 10 minutes each side.
Serve with slices of lemon or on their own.