Sardines are not gross A message for National Sardines Day
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.
Portuguese grilled sardines with quick-pickled red onions and Azorean potatoes. A veritable feast at Bem Bom. Call ahead at least one hour!