Sunday, October 07, 2012

Sunday Essay - an experiment with sardines

It appears that daylight saving has begun in NSW. The change had escaped me. I noticed it only because the time on my mobile and computer suddenly varied from the that on the microwave! However, that's not I want to write about today.

I am not a big fish person. Growing up away from the sea, we rarely ate fish except for some dreadful smoked variety that I absolutely detested. I didn't learn to like fish until Aunt Kay cooked some fresh rainbow trout that Uncle Ron caught on a fishing trip. New England has some good trout streams. Then I realised that fish could be okay. Since then, I have slowly added a variety of sea food to my diet. Oysters, prawns, mud crab, lobster and certain fish types.  

I say certain fish types. More accurately, I should say fish cooked in a certain way. More specifically, fish cooked in Asian style; crisp skinned and flavoured. I still don't have much time for conventionally Australian cooked fish - fillets with lemon and butter cooked in aluminium foil. To my mind, it tastes a bit like cardboard. And as for salmon steaks, that's just very expensive cardboard! It seems remarkably difficult to cook salmon properly.

I have always quite liked sardines. Initially, it was the tinned variety. They came in flat tins with curl back tops, lathered in oil. Later, I found fresh sardines in restaurants. Since then, I have eaten them quite often, although its a bit of a lucky dip; like salmon steaks, sardines seem to be quite hard to cook well.

I had noticed that my local Eastlakes fish shop often had fresh sardines and that they seemed to be quite cheap. As part of my current food campaign of something old and something new, I wandered into the shop the other day just to educate myself on fish varieties. "Can I help you?",  the Chinese woman in charge asked. "Just browsing", I said. "I want to learn what fish is around." She sniffed and walked away.

Yesterday I went back because I saw that they had sardines. I selected a few, although I felt a bit embarrassed a buying so little - they cost me $2.60! My Chinese lady just looked at me as I searched for change. But hey, I'm cooking just for me and on an experimental basis.

Clutching my little packet  I came home and went to Wikipedia to see how to cook my little haul. I almost gave up on the spot! It appears that sardines are rich in Omega 3, whatever that may be. It also appears that they deteriorate quickly and must be cooked absolutely fresh. Hastily, I checked my small victims; all displayed signs of early aging. Further, none of the recipes that I saw really explained how to get that crisp skinned texture that I wanted. Worse, the preparation instructions were daunting.

I had to take a fish knife to my poor remains and somehow fillet them. But I have never eaten filleted sardines in my life, nor have the bones been a problem. I hate fish bones. They were always part of the problem on those rare occasions when I ate fresh fish as a kid. But sardines did not seem to suffer from quite the same issue. What to do?

I sat there for a while and then went out to the garden. Under constant inspection by kvd and LE's chairs, the plants have raced away. I don't yet have a full range of veg, but lettuce is now always available. Grabbing a lettuce and a lemon, I came back in. Clearing the bench, I put the grill on high. Then, I took the sardines and rubbed them under running water, put them on a plate, added lemon juice and salt and pepper. Later, I threw on a generous dollop of olive oil.

While the grill was heating, I hastily tore the lettuce up, chopped french onion, tomatoes and cucumber and put the salad in a little bowl. With the grill now hot, I placed the sardines on it, turning them after a few minutes. Adding olive oil plus balsamic vinegar to the salad, I took the sardines off the grill and put them on the plate adding the salad. Then I went and watched Dr Who while I ate.

The verdict? Not too bad. But I need to get the grill right, for I didn't get that really crisp result that I wanted.          


Brigid said...

I think this post ought to qualify in the Independent Male section for a gold medal. :-) I am glad things came right in end - sort of!

Anonymous said...

Well I think this profusion of food (however well cooked) is great! I was out on the highway today, checked the site, called in to get some sardines (sorry Jim, rolltop can plus olive oil) on the way home. Delicious!

Your search for Keens; a very old brand, and I have a very old container of same if that helps?

My son on the other hand (trainee cook/chef has moved on to a staple called "Green Curry Paste" with (in brackets) "Gaeng Keow Wan". Not only delicious, but if you are at all asthmatic, I can assure you it will clear all possible vents.


Jim Belshaw said...

They kind of did, Brigid. The taste was actually good!

kvd, I'm told that it is still on sale. I will look for the green curry paste!