On Spring, Sundays and Sardines …

Portuguese Sardines

When I lived in Johannesburg, I had a Portuguese friend who, every now and then, would treat me to a simple feast of grilled sardines. It was the plain simplicity of the meal which I really loved.

My friend Ruiz would use his mother’s recipe and serve the delicious sardines on a Portuguese roll, drizzled with first class olive oil, hot, salty chips and some wonderful side salads.

While shopping at Fish 4 Africa in Woodstock recently, I saw some beautiful sardines, bought them and invited friends around for a late Sunday lunch in our herb garden. It was early Spring and we sat in the shaded courtyard, sipping ice cold white wine, while Gary grilled the sardines on a charcoal skottel braai near the pool.

The fish are so easy to clean. I just split them from tail to head, took out the innards and washed them in cold water. Ruiz’s mother taught me to pack coarse salt into the gills of the sardines, and to lay them so that the salt melts into the fish, before cooking. Then, it was just a case of lying them on the hot coals for about four minutes on each side.

While I was watching Gary cook, I went into a bit of a fantasy world, imagining we were sitting under a rustic wooden gazebo on a beach, with the blue sea in the background, and a simple charcoal fire.

Once the sardines are ready, you simply pull the backbone out. Put the sardine onto a fresh Portuguese roll and drizzle it with olive oil. Serve them with homemade mayonnaise and a generous squeeze of lemon. The flesh falls easily over the bones and you can eat the skins. Sardines do have some very fine bones, which are nothing to worry about: Just eat them!

Our guests were drooling. The combination of fish, virgin olive oil, tangy lemon juice and dollops of mayonnaise, with the white bread had them going back for more.

Our salad spread just added to the deliciousness: A big green salad, a spicy warm pinto bean dish and a couscous salad with roasted vegetables finished off the meal.

For dessert, we stuck with the Portuguese theme: Custard tarts and a crème brulee made in the Portuguese way. Just like Ruiz’s mom used to make them.

No wonder our guests were still there at supper time!

Portuguese Rolls
Olive Oil
Coarse Salt
Grill / Charcoal Grill / Braai

1 Split from tail to head, remove innards, wash in cold water.
2 Pack coarse sea salt in the sardine’s gills, and lay them flesh down so the salt melts into the fish before cooking.
3 Cook for about 4 minutes on each side.
4 Pull the backbone out, serve on a Portuguese Roll.
5 Serve with mayonnaise and squeeze lemon to taste.

Serving Suggestions:
Hot, salty chips / Green salads / Spicy, warm pinto bean dish / Couscous salad / Roasted vegetables / White wine