I won't try to tell you that fresh sardines make for an attractive dinner. There's no doubt about it: These are fishy fish with a reputation that no fancy lemon-and-onion salsa can hide. But I will tell you that fresh sardines make for utterly delicious eating. If you can get over picking around (and inevitably swallowing) a couple fish bones, not to mention encountering your dinner in its head-on form, you're on your way to a great meal.
The salsa comes via Nigella Lawson, and is made up mostly of the chopped flesh of a lemon, giving it this cutting brightness and acidity, shot through with fresh herbs like mint and parsley. Its bracing flavor complements the distinct taste of the sardines perfectly and does what citrus fruits ought to do in wintertime: remind you that sunnier times are coming.
Indeed, I pulled this out of a cookbook called Forever Summer. But no matter. Citrus is in season in some parts of the country, and a screaming hot broiler did the job just as well as the recommended grill.
- 8-12 fresh sardines, depending on size
- 2 lemons
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- Small handful fresh parsley, chopped
- Small handful fresh mint, leaves roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup good olive oil
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
Cut off the ends of the lemons and stand them upright on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut away the peel from top to bottom, turning the lemons as you go. Roughly chop the remaining flesh, removing the seeds as you go.
Add the onion and herbs and season with salt and pepper. Add the olive oil and stir well, then allow the salsa to sit for awhile to develop (at least 15 minutes).
Preheat the broiler for a good 5-7 minutes until it is screaming hot, and place an oven shelf close below it. Arrange the fish on a small baking sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil. Broil 3-5 minutes per side, until the skin is beginning to brown. Remove and sprinkle with sea salt.