Grilled Sardine Chinese Style
It is very unusual to find a live one-feet long sardine in the local market here. This sardine was an absolute beauty - bright colors and thick trunk. I knew instantly this would make a beautiful dinner.
Sardines are named after the island of Sardinia, where they were once found in abundance. Found in shoals throughout the Atlantic and Mediterranean, sardines have a silver skin and a rich-flavoured flesh that is dark in colour. Sardines are common also in the Pacific seas. However, they do not find their place in the Chinese cooking culture. The Chinese always prefer steamed fishes. Steaming a sardine does not produce good results. It's probably why local fishermen don't often catch them, and they are cheap in our market.
According to Wikipedia, sardines play an important role in Portuguese culture. Having been a people who depended heavily on the sea for food and commerce, the Portuguese have a predilection for fish in their popular festivities. The most important is Saint Anthony's day, 13th June, when the biggest popular festival takes place in Lisbon, taking the people to the streets where grilled sardines are the snack of choice. Almost every place in Portugal, from Figueira da Foz to Portalegre, or from Póvoa de Varzim to Olhão has the summertime popular tradition of eating grilled sardines. In Macau (45 minutes on a ferry from Hong Kong), sardines are easily available due to the Portugese influences. Traditional Portugese or Macanese restaurants always serve grilled sardines or mackerels.
This time however I'm going to add a little twist to the traditional recipe, by bringing a considerable balance of Chinese elements.
The ingredients - always as minimal as they can be:
1. a whole fresh sardine, keeping its head and tail intact;
2. slices of ginger, finely shredded;
3. two garlic gloves, finely chopped not crushed;
4. a handful of coriander, chopped; and
5. extra-virgin olive oil and extra-virgin soya-sauce.
Marinate the sardine with a splash of extra-virgin olive oil, sea-salt, ground pepper, ginger, garlic and a gentle touch of flour, preferably for an hour or two.
Heat up the pan to a grilling temperature. Toss the sardine onto the pan, lower the temperature slightly and leave one side grilled for about 5 minutes. Keep it still and don't try to move it while it's being cooked.
Turn around the fish and give it another 4 minutes. Quickly move it to a warm plate. Garnish the fish with coriander on top, and sprinkle more extra-virgin olive oil. Last but not least, a nice gentle splash of extra-virgin soya-sauce and one last grind of black-and-white pepper! Best served with a bottle of young sauvignon blanc or riesling!