Ever since they were first tinned in the 1880s in Europe (it is hard to pinpoint a precise place and date), sardines have been the humble and hurried man’s food. That was fast food before fast food was invented. As anyone versed in the little arts of packaged fish knows, a slice of lemon, some spices, and tomatoes can turn the tiny creatures into decent food.
Yet the canned sardines are the diminished cousins of their free kin. Your Future Imperfect correspondent is visiting Verb.Company’s headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale, the Venice of America, from the original Venice. Yesterday, he was offered a superb meal of wild sardines, cooked on the grill in the yard of your writer’s host. It was too delicious not to share with our readers.
It all started with a phone call from Finster Murphy’s, fine seafood purveyors, advising Verb’s Victor Aimi of the arrival of a fresh shipment of sardines. They were responding to a query he had made a month ago, about which he had already forgotten.
The wild sardines came from Spain. A pound of them came to about seven of the sleek, silver animals, much larger than the tiny creatures pressed into the ubiquitous cans. The preparation is quite simple. Our host fired the grill with firewood, which he let burn out slowly until the embers were bright enough for the perfect cooking. He then followed the cookbook instructions, which we provide below.
You rub the sardines with just enough extra virgin olive oil to make them slick. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Put the fish on the grill until they are well marked with the grill marks. That should last from 3 to 4 minutes. Our cook covered the grill for the first two minutes. When one side is done, the fish will come easily off the hot irons. Flip them over to the other side and leave them on the fire for another three minutes or until the shine is gone and the sardines become opaque.
Transfer to a platter, sprinkle with salt, and drizzle with a little more extra virgin olive oil. It serves four. Serve with lemon slices. Grill also one red and one green pepper. If nothing else, it has an important visual role. Food should not only appeal to our palate and sense of smell, but also our eyes.