A couple of years ago, during a day trip to a friend’s summer house, I learned that sardines can actually get married too. Until then I knew that only humans did that, so it took me by surprise. The truth is, however, that the more I was drawn into this unusual union the more I was liking them.

Yes, I am almost certain I had the same look on my face that day as you do now, but wait till you see what a perfect match maker cooking can be. I am referring to cooking sardines this way, the “married” way as we say in Greece: it can transform this relatively uninteresting fish into something even the most strict food critics, children, will eat with pleasure. And parents won’t have to worry about fish bones.

Sardines have an exceptional nutritional value. They are rich in Omega-3 (ω-3) fatty acids, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as the full palette of B vitamins. And they are not expensive.

Butterfly and put them in pairs with tomato, fresh oregano and garlic and serve with a refreshing lemon-mustard sauce and you will instantly feel like you are on holidays in the Mediterranean. So, why wait? Start cooking!


Ingredients

For the fish

  • 1 kg fresh sardines, butterflied with tails kept intact
  • 1 medium-to-large tomato, finely chopped
  • 5 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano (or, basil)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • salt, pepper for seasoning
  • 2-3 tablespoons breadcrumbs and 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, for the baking tray
  • finely chopped fresh parsley and slices of lemon, for serving

For the lemon-mustard sauce

  • lemon juice from 3 lemons, freshly squeezed
  • equal amount of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (or, anyone you prefer)

Directions for the fish

  1. Pre-heat oven at 180oC.
  2. Spread a touch of olive oil on a baking tray and sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top (this way the sardines won’t stick to the baking tray while cooking).
  3. In a bowl, mix the tomatoes, oregano, garlic and season with salt and pepper.Stuffed sardines
  4. Place half of the butterflied sardines, skin down, on the baking tray, add ½ tablespoon of the mixture on top and cover with another sardine, flesh touching the mixture (skin up).
  5. Drizzle with olive oil and slightly season with salt and pepper.
  6. Bake in the oven for approximately 25-30 minutes (do not overcook them as they will get really dry).

Directions for the sauce

  • While the fish is cooking away, you can prepare the sauce by mixing thoroughly the 3 ingredients. You can either use a fork and whisk them all together or use a shaker.
  • The sauce will become thick and shiny.

Serving suggestion

  • Take sardines out of the oven and on to a serving plate. While still hot, pour the sauce over them.
  • Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley and slices of lemon.
  • Pour yourself a glass of ouzo, or tsipouro on ice and… they were eaten happily ever after!

Tip: Butterflying a sardine

Hold the fish under cold running water and rub off the scales using a small knife (the back, dull side of your knife) or if you are brave enough, your thumbnail.

Cut the head with a knife (or your hand) and pull down; most of the innards will come out with the head. Use the knife to slit the belly down to the tail, remove any remaining innards and rinse the interior.

Butterflying sardinesOn a cutting board, place the fish on the board (horizontally with the belly against the board) and gently push down along the spine until you’ve flattened the fish.

Turn the fish over and gently pull out the spine trying to damage the flesh as little as possible. NOTE: the fresher the sardines, the harder it will be to remove the bone.

Repeat this step until all your sardines have been butterflied and boned. Rinse the sardines once again and allow to drain and pat-dry. Reserve in a bowl.

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Lab scientist, sharp dresser and cooking guru Maria is one half of the original alwaysladies.com founding team. She brings her opinions with earnestness and a smile, even when there are razor blades inside.

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