Thursday, September 22, 2005

In Praise of Sardines

Yes, I swiped that title from the very talented writer and eater, Brett, at (duh!) In Praise of Sardines.
Cranky-husband-and-co-cook and I asked our butcher/fishmonger, Bryan, if he could get us any fresh sardines, on special order, since he doesn't usually carry them in the Corte Madera store.
No, sadly, he said, since the minimum order is five pounds, and two merely hungry adults don't need five pounds.
Then, he thought — what if he ganged up orders from people who like sardines, and we could split the spoils? (And, boy, is "spoils" not really a good word here.)
About three days later, he phoned us to say we could come claim our catch.
"They're really fresh," he said. "They haven't been out of the water for very long."
Ooh. They were really fresh.
I've probably NEVER had a fresher fish I didn't catch myself (or, with credit to Cranky, Himself — and he can catch fish).
Here's the thing. The sardines — we grilled them briefly over briquettes flavored with soaked alder chips — were SWEET. No need for a squirt of lemon, no such thing as catchup or tartar sauce (not that I'd ever).
We toasted thinly sliced ciabatta (and thank you, Jack in the Box, for hijacking that name). Grilled the deboned, butterflied fish over the coals in a fish basket, so they wouldn't fall through the bars. Smeared the toast with roasted garlic. Slapped on the fish. Showered the plank with chopped Italian parsley. Oh, there may have been a little salt and dried chile flakes.
But. SWEET. (Apologies for the caps, and the repetition.)
My only discovery, besides the fact that super-fresh fish is heavenly (wait, did I not know this? I knew this — I just don't usually get it this fresh), is that chopped really fresh Italian parsley is magic on board.
I have only one other food memory that is as vivid as this, and it's from almost 30 years ago: An onion and tomato salad in Yugoslavia.
And yesterday, I figured out why it's such a standout memory. The food was astonishingly fresh.
That's what tastes good.


Brett said...

Cookiecrumb, isn't it funny how such a little fish can leave such a big impression? That was a beautiful description! I could practically taste those super-fresh (why can't all our fish be as fresh?) sardines with you. You might enjoy this picture of sardines being grilled from my trip to Spain.

Now if you'll escuse me, I have to figure out what the fifth sentence in my 23rd post was.

Greg said...

Gourmando Greg you eat the head? Food looking back at me is a little scary ;)

cookiecrumb said...

Brett: Those don't even look gutted! Were they? What a lovely souvenir picture.
Greg, did you go look at the pic? Heads on. In our case, since we were deboning them first, we took the heads off.
I printed out a picture of the assembled toasts and took it to Bryan yesterday. He was pleased.

michelle said...

Wow - that looks fantastic, and what a great description. Perhaps I could convince my fishmonger to do the same...

cookiecrumb said...

Michelle: Well, the customer is always right, as they used to say. We find the more interaction we have with our vendors, the more they learn what buyers want to buy. Plus a great guy like Bryan. I wonder if he actually called around to some of his customers to get a list together.

Brett said...

From what I can remember, the sardines were gutted. They were fairly easy to fillet. I ate all six of them myself and then a whole grilled Dover sole! So amazing. I get hungry just at the thought of it.

Fatemeh said...

Hey, how hard is it to debone a sardine?

I'm really considering having a go at this fish, which I really have never liked, because I'm hearing so many wonderful thing (and because sometime in the past six weeks, I suddenly don't HATE salmon anymore)

cookiecrumb said...

Hate salmon? Eek. :-)
Shall I come over and smoke some teriyaki-marinated salmon cubes for you? Or could you stand an oven roasted salmon with cabernet/butter-reduction sauce?
Um, it was surprisingly easy to debone the sardines, once they'd been cleaned and deheaded. Backbone just pulled right out.
(Thanks for the "meat water" recipe at Bay Area Bites today... wow, pure comfort food. When I first visited Germany, I had been coached on a sentence to ask hoteliers about whether the room had running water: "fl├╝ssiges Wasser." I inadvertently asked if it had "meat water," "Fleisch Wasser." Duh.)

Fatemeh said...

Well, I don't care for "fishy fish", and for the longest time, I considered salmon the fishiest of them.

I avoided smoked salmon, I asked for "no sake" when I'd go omakase at sushi restaurants, and I never, EVER bought the stuff at the fishmongers.

Then, maybe 5 weeks ago, C had an omelette or something with salmon. And I liked it.

Then, last weekend, we were at a wedding in Colorado where we were served poached salmon in beurre blanc. And I ate a BIG piece.

And this past weekend, I found myself going back for seconds of a smoked salmon pinwheel hors d'oeuvres at another wedding.

I'm committed to cooking salmon at home while the in-laws are here. So, wanna cough up that recipe for cabernet-butter reduction?

PS - that's pretty funny about "meat water". If you'd asked that in Iran, they would have been mightily impressed!

cookiecrumb said...

Fatemeh: I'll email you the cabernet reduction recipe. I imagine your "fishy" fish experiences came from mostly not-spectacularly fresh fish! Let me know if you use the recipe.

Anonymous said...

PLEASE--can someone help me locate fresh sardines? I live in the midwest, and so far all the local fishmarkets have told me they can't find them either! I'm willing to pay to have them shipped or whatever!

cookiecrumb said...

Dear Desperate: Your best bet might be to order some directly from a fishmonger in Monterey, where they are caught. You'd certainly get the freshest ones that way, but there might be a minimum order. (Not sure if there's a season, BTW.)