Even though I was a picky child, I loved sardines when I was small. My mother would give them to me atop saltine crackers, skin, bones and all, and I'd devour them. The first time I tried fresh ones in a restaurant, I was blown away. Since I learned to clean them, I buy them whenever I see them in the market.
Besides the fact that sardines are tasty, there are about a zillion other great reasons to eat them: The entire California fishery collapsed in the 1940s, but now it's considered well-managed, they are local to us on the west coast (usually caught in Central California), they are low on the food chain and therefore low in toxins like pcbs and mercury, they are really high in healthy omega-3s and they are crazy cheap. You can feed two people (fresh fish!) on a few bucks.
Broiled Fresh Sardines with Gremolata
you'll need 1/2 - 3/4 of a pound of sardines per person
First the yucky part: You have to clean them and it's not pretty:
• Take the dull edge of a paring knife and scrape any loose scales away.
• Firmly grasp the head of the fish and pull. Most of the guts will come out with the head.
• With your nails or a sharp paring knife, cut down the length of the belly, rinsing away any remaining viscera.
• Grasp the top fin between your index finger and thumb and pull sharply toward the head. It should come off easily. Now pull out any little bone that runs across the top of the fish.
• To remove the vertebrae, carefully open the fish flat from the belly side, exposing the entire backbone. Slowly work your index finger under the backbone, separating it from the flesh, and working your way steadily toward the tail. Pull sharply, taking the tail with you. You should have a flat, boneless double fillet of sardine
• Rinse and dry the sardines one last time
What follows is not really a recipe. Just blend the ingredients for both the marinade and the gremolata together to taste, using as much as you need to cover the amount of fish you're using.
For the marinade: Whisk together more or less equal parts olive oil and lemon juice (if Meyers are available use them). You want just enough to cover the fish. Add a generous amount of chopped garlic and parsley. Marinate fish for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
For the gremolata: Mix together zest from the lemons (again Meyers are perfect), finely chopped parsley, chopped garlic, bread crumbs, and rinsed and chopped salted capers (optional). Add a little bit of olive oil just until the mixture clumps together.
Now remove the sardines from the marinade and preheat the broiler. Lay the sardines out in a single layer in a baking dish. Sprinkle them evenly with the gremolata. Place them under the broiler and broil for 2-3 minutes or until cooked through.
Serve them simply with salad and roasted potatoes and you'll be very very happy. They're great with rosé
For more sardine love, check out Brett's blog, In Praise of Sardines.