Sar­dines are not gross A mes­sage for Na­tional Sar­dines Day

Orlando Sentinel - - IN THEATERS NOW -

COM­MEN­TARY are my come­backs.

Both an­chovies and sar­dines are de­li­cious, but I’m will­ing to re­lent they could be an ac­quired taste. I grew up in a fam­ily that ate both reg­u­larly. So did Men­donça, but in Por­tu­gal’s Azores ar­chi­pel­ago, sar­dines are the rule, not the ex­cep­tion — as they more of­ten are in the U.S.

“Fish like this in Por­tu­gal is the cheap­est of the cheap, and so that’s what most fam­i­lies can af­ford,” Men­donça ex­plains, “and over the years they have just be­come cre­ative and done amaz­ing things with what they have.”

And they ben­e­fit greatly, be­cause sar­dines are supremely nu­tri­tious. They’re jammed with Omega-3 fatty acids, touted as a su­per­food in fend­ing off heart dis­ease, im­prov­ing eye health, even treat­ing de­pres­sion. Sar­dines are also loaded with cal­cium due in part to their fine, un­ob­tru­sive, ed­i­ble bones.

Sar­dines are plank­ton eaters, which means they don’t have the mer­cury con­tent that de­ters folks from eat­ing other fish, such as tuna. Just one serv­ing of sar­dines packs in 17 grams of protein and as much Omega-3 as salmon.

Well, yeah. They’re fish. “It’s no dif­fer­ent than meat,” Men­donça of­fers. “You have beef, then veni­son is a lit­tle bit stronger, so is lamb….” Or bi­son, elk, moose. “It’s all de­li­cious meat.”

Men­donça ven­tures it could be the aroma — in par­tic­u­lar, that of canned sar­dines — that keeps some Amer­i­cans at bay. And so, I sug­gest you try them fresh or, far more likely, frozen­thawed. They’re al­ways in house at Bem Bom, though not menu touted.

This reg­u­lar sup­ply is mostly for Por­tuguese cus­tomers, whether reg­u­lars in-the-know or new ones who ask, as it seems odd not to see them on­menu amid dishes like

and (salted cod stew). Men­donça asks cus­tomers to call ahead to let him know they’re com­ing in for the dish; should this ar­ti­cle pique your in­ter­est to cel­e­brate with a visit on Na­tional Sar­dines Day or oth­er­wise, be sure to do the same. The fish come frozen whole from Por­tu­gal and so need a cou­ple of hours to prop­erly thaw be­fore prepa­ra­tion, which is ex­ceed­ingly sim­ple.

“Just a lit­tle bit of olive oil, some salt and then grill them to per­fec­tion,” he says.

It’s a word I’d have used if he hadn’t.

Served with a jammy Por­tuguese red, quick­pick­led red onion, grilled lemon and ten­der Azore­anstyle pota­toes, fea­tur­ing the mel­low-but-as­sertive heat of the Malagueta pep­per (com­monly used in piri piri), one sim­ply lifts ten­der fishy flesh from bone — with fork or fin­gers.

You’ll be etch­ing a meal­borne mem­ory as you do so, I prom­ise.

Men­donça did triple­duty in his ef­forts to help me pro­mote sar­dine love, fil­let­ing the hand­some, sturdy fishes into two other dishes: a crispy-fried, vine­gar-kissed es­cabeche, and a ten­der, tomato-braised ren­di­tion.

The for­mer was de­vel­oped as a way of pre­serv­ing the fish, in which fil­lets are fried — Men­donça uses a fine corn flour — then smoth­ered in a won­der­fully vine­gary sauce, the sharp­ness of which con­trasts (in a mouth­wa­ter­ing way) with the sweet­ness of the tomato-onion-gar­lic amal­gam.

A more mel­low prep — and Men­donça was gen­er­ous enough to share the recipe here — sees the fil­lets blanched in a tomato sauce that turns them into flaky, melt-away morsels in your mouth.

Cu­ri­ous? Give the be­low a try. And you don’t have to wait for your sar­dines to get here from Por­tu­gal. Lom­bardi’s Seafood (1888 W. Fair­banks Av­enue in Win­ter Park; 407-628-3474; lom­bardis.com) keeps frozen, 2-lb. bags of wild­caught, eastern At­lantic sar­dines in stock. Each yields 8-10 fish; they sell for $8.98.

(Filetes de Sardinha com Molho de To­mate Re­fo­gado)

• 12 medium sar­dines, fil­leted

• Salt and black pep­per to taste

• ½ cup ex­tra vir­gin olive oil

Friday, Novem­ber 22, 2019

• 10 cloves gar­lic, thinly sliced

• 2 medium yel­low onions, finely diced

• 2 bay leaf, fresh

• 1 sprig fresh thyme leaves

• 10 ripe Roma toma­toes (may sub­sti­tute medium vine-ripened toma­toes) — blanched, skinned, seeded, finely diced

• 2 le­mons, juiced

• Sea salt to taste

• 8 black pep­per twists

• Fresh oregano, juli­enne-style

Add olive oil to heavy, medi­um­sized saucepan on low to medium heat, sautéing sliced gar­lic un­til translu­cent. Add onion and bay leaves and cook low and slow un­til golden in color (“You will be re­warded,” says Men­donça.) Add thyme, cook 2-3 min­utes. Raise heat to high, add toma­toes and bring al­most to a boil — then drop heat to low and cook 30 min­utes. Add lemon juice, salt and pep­per to taste, cook an ad­di­tional 4 min­utes. Set aside 12 ounces of fin­ished sauce to ac­com­pany the sar­dines.

Pass bal­ance of tomato sauce through a fine strainer, press­ing with the back of a la­dle. To this liq­uid, add an ad­di­tional ¼ cup ex­tra vir­gin olive oil.

Sea­son sar­dine fil­lets with salt and pep­per. Place the brais­ing sauce in 10-inch, non­stick fry­ing pan and bring to low heat. Drop fil­lets in sauce for 5 min­utes, turn off heat and let them sit an ad­di­tional 5 min­utes.

Re­move sar­dines from brais­ing sauce and ar­range them on an in­di­vid­ual plate or plat­ter. Spoon a small amount of the re­served tomato sauce on each sar­dine, add a lit­tle juli­enne oregano and driz­zle some ex­tra vir­gin olive oil around it. mem­ber­ship.or­lan­dosen­tinel.com/news­let­ters.

AMY DREW THOMPSON/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Por­tuguese grilled sar­dines with quick-pick­led red onions and Azorean pota­toes. A ver­i­ta­ble feast at Bem Bom. Call ahead at least one hour!

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