Mint-Stuffed Pan Fried Sardines with Fennel and Currant Salad | CUESA

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Mint-Stuffed Pan Fried Sardines with Fennel and Currant Salad

Source:

Becky Selengut, author of Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast (Sasquatch Books, 2011)

This recipe was prepared on June 11, 2011

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

½ pound whole sardines
¼ cup mint, leaves picked, sliced into ribbons (put 1 tablespoon aside for salad)
Juice from 1 lemon, plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Toothpicks, for securing sardines
1-2 medium shallots, sliced into thin rings (to equal about ½ cup)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
½ cup fennel, shaved thin on a mandoline or with a knife, fronds reserved for garnish
1 tablespoon currants
1 tablespoon high heat vegetable oil, such as safflower or sunflower

PREPARATION

1.  Prepare sardines: run the sardines under water and, with your fingernail, scrape off any scales.  Gently bend back the sardine’s head to remove.  With the sardine on a cutting board, use a sharp knife to cut a slit along the belly line, starting at the top and cutting all the way to the tail.  Rinse the cavity under running water to remove the innards.  Place the sardine back on the board, with the open cavity facing your knife, and carefully cut through the sardine splitting it open like a book , being careful not to cut through to the other side. Once you can open the sardine up, carefully - with your fingers - pry the spine and rib bones out, trying to leave as much flesh on the fish as possible. (Don’t worry too much about small bones because the high-heat cooking will make the bones very tender.) Cut or pull out the tail along with the spine.  With scissors snip off the dorsal fin on the top of the fish. Repeat with the remaining sardines.

2.  Salt and pepper the inside of each sardine and distribute the mint evenly, stuffing it into the now butterflied sardines. Squeeze some lemon juice over the fish flesh, fold the sides over and secure the fish closed with a toothpick. Set aside.

3.  Make the salad: cook the shallots and a pinch of salt in the olive oil in a small sauté pan until lightly caramelized, about 7 minutes. Toss with pine nuts, shaved fennel, currants, reserved mint and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set salad aside.

4.  Heat a pan (I love to use a well-seasoned cast iron pan for this) over high heat. You need the pan to be super hot in order to get some caramelization on the fish in the short time it takes to cook it.  Add the vegetable oil and, 30 seconds later, carefully lay the stuffed sardines in the pan, making sure not to overcrowd the pan.  Cook for about 2 minutes on the first side, carefully flip over using a sturdy, thin-edged metal spatula.  Cook for another minute or two on the other side. Remove to a platter.

5.  To serve: place an equal portion of salad on each plate and top with sardines. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve with good crusty bread and white wine (see below).

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