CULTURE

Sardines: Worth the extra effort

Rich in important minerals such as phosphorus, calcium and potassium, as well as iron and selenium, sardines are also a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids.

The tasty oily fish helps boost the nervous system and stimulates the metabolism, it protects from cardiovascular disease and can also lower blood sugar levels.

But the truth is that it is a fiddly fish to clean because it?s very delicate and can fall apart easily.

Award-winning chef Christoforos Peskias walks us through the steps for cleaning and preparing a simple sardine dish, while we also present a more complex arrangement suitable for a dinner party.

According to Peskias, the best way to clean sardines without tearing their delicate skin is to soak them for a few minutes in a bowl with very cold water (add some ice cubes) to firm the skin up. You can remove most of the scales simply by rubbing the skin with your hands and rinsing the fish in the water, though you may have to use the side of a knife for the more stubborn scales after removing them from the water.

The next trick is to use a knife to cut off the head. Place the blade of the knife under the gills on each side of the fish and squeeze them gently, without cutting all the way through, before pulling the head away from the body and dragging the intestines out. Next, use scissors to cut halfway down the fish?s belly, from where the head was down to its anus. If the fish starts getting messy, give it a quick rinse in the bowl of cold water. Once the fish is cut halfway, put it onto a flat surface on its back and start easing it open with your fingers to separate the two fillets. From the top down, locate the spine and pull gently away from the flesh down to the tail, but do not pull it hard or the tail could come away with a good deal of the meat. Use the scissors to snip off the tail end, with the spine attached, in order to get a nice fillet of both sides of the fish.

Give them a rinse before laying them out for cooking on a platter.

Cleaning around 1 kilogram of medium-sized sardines using this method should take around 40 minutes, and the fillets are now ready to be grilled in the oven or on charcoal, baked or fried.

Peskias suggests making ?sandwiches? of the fillets and stuffing them with herbs and sun-dried tomatoes before cooking them in a hot pan to get the grilled effect without using too much oil.

Prepare the stuffing (for around 1 kilo of sardines) using 1 large onion, 10 sun-dried and oil-preserved tomatoes and about 2 tablespoons of parsley. Finely chop all the ingredients. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan and soften the onions before adding the other ingredients and seasoning the mixture. Saute for around a minute and remove from the heat.

Spread out the mixture evenly over half the fillets, but be sure to put it in the center of each fillet so that it doesn?t fall out when cooking. Cover them with the other half of the fillets. Meanwhile, heat a nonstick thick-bottomed frying pan and then add around a teaspoon of olive oil. Place just four or five ?sandwiches? in the pan and cook for around 90 seconds. Carefully turn over with a spatula and cook for another 30-40 seconds. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, and add a dash of olive oil and some freshly squeezed lemon juice before serving.

To make this recipe faster, grill the sardine parcels in the oven for 2-3 minutes on one side and 60-90 seconds on the other.

RECIPE

Baked sardines with capers and mustard

Ingredients

(Serves 6)

1 kg sardines, cleaned and filleted

1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped

3-4 spring onions, finely chopped

1/4 cup white wine

1/2 bunch parsley leaves, finely chopped

2 tbsp capers, chopped

3 tbsp mustard

100 ml olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the filleted fish, closed and tightly together, on a baking tray and season with salt. Preheat the oven to 190C (375F). In a separate frying pan, saute the onion and spring onions until soft over a medium heat, then add the capers and the garlic. Mix for around 1/2 minute and add the wine, simmering until the alcohol evaporates. Add the mustard, the parsley and the pepper, stir a couple of times and remove from the heat. Pour the sauce over the sardines on the baking tray and cook for 8-10 minutes in the oven. Don?t serve it when it?s very hot, because the flavor of the sardines will come out better after resting.