Sardine dreams go up in smoke


With only three recipes left to make in Good Fish, I was expecting smooth sailing through the Labor Day weekend as I wrapped up my Sustainable Seafood in Summer voyage.

But then came Smoked Sardines with Piquillo Pepper Sauce (pg 203), a #5 difficulty recipe.  And you better believe that ranking, because I found this to be the hardest dish in the book to make, for me.

This was the third recipe that called for smoking fish, in a wok on the BBQ, so I expected to cruise through that step.  Unfortunately, I first had to completely clean and fillet six whole sardines, which pretty much put me – and my kitchen! – in a funk for the rest of the day.

I worked with whole sardines earlier in the project, but they had been cleaned, so I had yet to experience the joy that is cleaning the little 8-inch beauties.  I watched Becky’s how-to video twice and then had it set up on my laptop computer in the kitchen, just to be sure I did it correctly – and it still was one big hot mess.


It’s a good thing Katy was out of town for this (quite convenient, come to think of it…) because it was not pretty, and I do not wish to do this task ever again.  It was hard, messy, complicated, delicate, stinky and not at all as easy as Becky shows on the video.  Again, results may vary, but this was my experience.

Skip ahead an hour or so until I placed them on the smoker, with only three minutes needed for each side of the fish.  However, after the first interval, I went to turn them only to see quite a curled up mess on the grill – what is THAT??  Selengut, we have a problem!  I flipped them anyway, but the finished smoked product look like something the cat dragged in, literally.  I’m not even sure I can bring myself to take the leftovers to my dad – and he eats ANYTHING I bring him! :)

On a brighter note, the other components of the dish were fantastic, and in particular, the fried cauliflower and capers were a revelation. I do not care for either ingredient, but after breading the cauli in cornmeal, it was mellow and crunchy, and the fried capers burst into a little flower-like thing and their salty flavor for once did not overpower me.  Also, the grilled escarole was nicely smoky and sweetened up considerably from its raw form. Chalk up three things on the good side of the ledger!


And a fourth wonderful component is the piquillo pepper sauce, nicely tangy and spicy, yet boasting a lovely smoke thanks to tomato halves smoked on the grill and a bit of smoked paprika.  The entire dish was delicious as an ensemble, although I found the sardines to be still a bit bony for my liking and it’s a bit much work to get the edible fish pulled out.  But the smoky sardine flavor? Brilliant!

A sparkling rose (or sauv blanc) put a happy face on the chef in the end, but if you choose to take on this recipe, prepare to spend several hours and some intense labor putting it all together.  And you might need to smoke more than sardines, if you know what I mean!! :)

NEXT UP: And then there were two…the final recipes of the book

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Copyright 2011 Karen Rosenzweig