Take a tin of sardines, take the sardines out and keep the tin? There is method in my madness, believe me! All explained…over a light summer lunch of fresh sardine pâté.
A visit to the fishmongers is always a ‘living for the moment’ experience in Malta. While having developed some sense of what fish is in season, I still can’t know for sure what will be available on the day, so I go with an open mind and my brain whirring like a Rolodex card file thinking double quick through fish dishes. I case the joint very quickly as I squeeze in the door (with a sudden push of people behind me) as a moment’s hesitation sees the fish seller move on down the line to serve the next customer in a jiffy.
You can’t afford to miss your slot as the very best of the catch of the day is snapped up quickly. I was second in the door at opening time on Friday, 8.30am, and managed to bag some fresh mussels and a tray of sardines (one of only three on offer), filleted ready to go, and some large calamari. I was fifth in the queue on my first visit to this particular shop in St Paul’s Bay and on that occasion, having eyed up the bags of mussels, I noticed they were all gone by customer nr. three. Second time lucky though and we had amazingly tasty bowlfuls of moules marinières to start the weekend; a fishy weekend indeed.
Sardines were on my list but I’d not hoped to find them so readily prepped. A god-send and perfect for lunch next day (packed with ice in the fridge, they kept well).
Sardines remind me of childhood high teas home from school. The humble sardine on toast, sometimes with melting cheese underneath, would feature regularly; mum wanting to dish out something quick and nutritious. Those were the days before we all talked of Omega 3 and delved into the constituent oils/fats and their varying merits. Sardines have 1,950 mg of Omega-3s per 3-ounce serving, if you’re into the specifics. This weekend’s sardines on toast were not ‘en boite’ though I served them in a discarded tin that had seen their processed, canned relatives. Toast was a French baguette but if I had grilled my flat breads first (and therefore not had fishy debris to deal with on the BBQ) I would have served those. BBQ grill cleaning side, this fresh sardine pâté is summer lunch at its easiest and healthiest.
Of course, you don’t need to serve them in a sardine tin as I did, but it’s a nice quirky talking point if you’ve folk for lunch. The pâté also makes a tasty starter for dinner parties as it can be made ahead, as well as thick spreadable dip for buffets and BBQ nibblets. If you can’t find the fresh fish, this recipe is an interesting way to pep up tinned sardines; just drain the oil off well first.
All images © Liz Ayling 2013
- 8 fresh sardines, deboned,filleted by your fishmonger (or two cans of sardines in olive oil)print button transparent
- dusting of plain flour (to grill sardines in)
- zest & juice a lime and a small lemon
- 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
- 1 rounded tbsp capers, and more to garnish
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed, plus a few seeds to garnish
- 2 spring onions, finely sliced
- 1 tbsp fresh, flat-leaf parsley, chopped & more to garnish
- 2 tbsps mayonnaise, best quality possible
- freshly-ground sea salt & black pepper
- If using tinned sardines, drain off the excess oil, and skip to point 3.
- Wash the fresh sardines and clean any bits left from fishmonger filleting. Pat dry, and drizzle a little olive oil on the fish, both skin and flesh sides, then dust lightly with plain flour and shake off excess.
- Preheat grill to medium-hot (or BBQ flat plate), then grill the sardines for a couple of minutes each side until lightly cooked through.
- When sardines are cool enough to handle, fork off the meat carefully, breaking up into medium-sized chunks (not a mush!), removing any lingering larger bones you spot.
- In a bowl, lightly fork in all the ingredients to the sardine meat, ending with the mayonnaise. Chill covered in the fridge until ready to serve.
- When serving, fork up gently, then garnish with more citrus zest, capers and flat-leaf parsley and a few dots of extra virgin olive oil.