Fresh sardines on toast

Fresh sardines on toast

Sardinhas assadas com pao torrado

By
From
Lisbon
Serves
4
Photographer
Steven Joyce

The feast of Santo Antonio is a religious festival, but you could be forgiven for thinking of it as a sardine festival. (Saint Anthony was a 13th century Catholic missionary in Italy, who, saddened when no-one would stop to hear his sermon, stood at the water’s edge to deliver it, only for an audience of fish to rise from the sea and listen to him.)

For a few summer nights each year, the lanes and alleyways of Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhoods fill with the smoky scent of grilling sardines, as locals and tourists alike gorge on fresh fish served on crusty bread, cold beers and plastic cups of sweet sangria. Makeshift grills are built from oil drums, paper sardines and streamers flutter from house to house, and anyone with a set of speakers pushes them into their upstairs windows and turns the volume up. At another turn, you might find a band playing, singing bawdy songs to a laughing, dancing crowd.

If you want to dress this recipe up, add a pinch of smoked paprika to the oil before tossing the fish, and finish with a little chopped parsley.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
8 whole fresh sardines, (gutted, scaled and cleaned)
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
salt
freshly ground black pepper
4-8 thick slices crusty white bread, depending on size
lemon wedges, to serve (optional)

Method

  1. Pat the sardines dry with paper towels, then toss them in the olive oil and season with some salt and pepper.
  2. If you’re grilling the sardines, either fire up the barbecue and wait for the coals to turn white, or preheat the grill (broiler) to medium. Cook the sardines on the barbecue or under the grill, until the skins have browned and blistered and the fish is just lifting away from the bones.
  3. If you’re baking the sardines, preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the sardines, in a single layer, in a baking dish. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
  4. When the sardines are nearly ready, prepare the bread. Usually, in Portugal, sardines are eaten on bread rather than toast, but I love to brush one side of a slice of bread with a little oil and then grill or barbecue it until just beginning to char.
  5. Perch the sardines on the bread or toast so that it can catch the delicious cooking juices as you eat, and squeeze over a little fresh lemon juice, if you like. To eat, peel the fish from the bones with your fingers, and finish by eating the juice-soaked bread.
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