TThe secret of this dish is not to compromise on the quality of the products – from the sardines in bread and olive oil, to the salt you use to process the sardines, everything should be as good as possible. . It is also a dish that requires patience. Yes, you could have something similar by pulling the ring on a box, but where’s the fun in that? Says Chef Josh Niland.
âOnce you have gone to the trouble of preparing them, you will be rewarded with your own salted sardine fillets, which can essentially be used as salted anchovies in a wide range of dishes. Like pure umami, they will add magic to pasta, compound butters, mayonnaise, salads and more, but also be sure to retain the brine from the salting process as this will serve as a great seasoning for other dishes. If artichokes are out of season or unavailable, grilled peppers (bell peppers) and marjoram make a great substitute, as do semi-dried tomatoes and lovage. This recipe is also excellent with store-bought salted sardines, anchovies and even tuna for those who want it right away!
Salted Sardine Fillets and Artichokes on Toast from Take One Fish by Josh Niland
Serves: 2 (with leftover sardines)
1kg (2lb oz) whole fresh sardines
2 kg (4 lb 6 oz) of the best quality rock salt
Chilled water, for soaking about 500 ml (17 fl oz or 2 cups)
2 slices of quality sourdough bread
70 ml (2Â¼ fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
6 small artichokes, tough outer leaves and woody stems removed
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
1. To salt the sardines, first carefully scale the fish with a spoon. Using a sharp knife, cut behind the head on both sides to the necks of the sardine, then remove the head by gently twisting and pulling it – the organs will follow in one piece . Instead of throwing out this part of the fish, remove the gills and gallbladder from the head and organs and make your own garum (fish sauce), or use it store-bought.
2. Place a layer of rock salt on the bottom of a sterile, non-reactive storage container. Add a layer of sardines, then another layer of rock salt, followed by more sardines. Continue layering until you’ve used up all the sardines, ending with a layer of salt, making sure it completely covers all of the fish.
3. Close the lid of your container and place it in the coldest part of your refrigerator for about two weeks. After this time, the sardines will be dried and the flesh will have a darker complexion. Leaving the sardines longer, up to a month, will give a more rounded and flavorful flavor profile.
4. To prepare the sardines for service, if you are right handed, start with the head of the sardine on the left, the tail on the right and the spine facing you. Make a clean cut under the fish, removing the intact fillet with a single knife motion from head to tail. Repeat on the other side. Follow these instructions in reverse if you are left-handed. (Sardines do not require boning, but it is important to cut the bones of the ribs with a small knife as they are quite unpalatable.)
5. Taste the salted fillets – you will find that they are incredibly salty to the point of looking inedible. Pour a little ice water in a small bowl and add the sardine fillets to remove some of the intensity of the cure. Taste every 15 minutes until you reach the level of seasoning you like. At this point, transfer the fillets to a piece of paper towels or a cloth and dry them thoroughly. Place these beautiful fillets in a container and cover with extra virgin olive oil. They are now ready to eat or store in the refrigerator for up to two months.
6. When you’re ready to make the toast, preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat or a charcoal grill with evenly burned embers. Brush the bread with olive oil and toast for a minute on each side or until golden brown. Rub a single garlic clove over the hot toast to expel its natural oils and aroma.
7. Using a sharp mandolin, finely mince the artichokes into wafers on the hot toast. Working quickly so you can enjoy the toast piping hot, place six salted sardine fillets on each slice of toast over the chopped artichoke. Add a few grated lemon zest, a squeeze of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and lots of pepper. Cut the toast to share immediately.
Take One Fish: The New School Of Scale-to-Tail Cooking And Eating by Josh Niland is published by Hardie Grant, priced at Â£ 26. Photograph by Rob Palmer. Available now.