Monday, February 19, 2007

Sticking with Sardines

Tonight, only sardines would do. Call it the need for oily fish.

Sardines aren't easy. Cheap, yes. Delicious, absolutely. But those little tiny bones, they can become a concern. Even the highly skilled guys at our Asian market's fish counter throw up their hands when you ask them to clean 'em. ("Only gut," is a common refrain.) So when I buy sardines, I feel the same way I do when I buy heads-on shrimp: excited, but a little guilty that I'm about to make Margy labor for her dinner.

Thing is, the bones are so small, in fact, that I'm pretty sure you can just eat them. The thinner, brittler ones, anyway. The pattern for me is always the same: I treat sardine #1 with kid gloves, gingerly excising each translucent little bone with the focus of a surgeon. I work hard for every omega-3-packed morsel I throw in my mouth. Then, somewhere, somehow, a bone or two gets through and I realize it's not the end of the world (as long as I make sure to chew). By sardine #2 I'm throwing caution to the wind.

Luckily, you can get in a rhythm of filleting the sardines and removing the majority of the skeleton in one motion, greatly cutting back on the bone crunching. And it's worth it -- there's nothing like a nice stack of freshly cooked sardines. Their flavor is related to that of their canned counterparts (which, let's be honest, have their share of little bones as well), but the fish are meatier, tastier, more succulent.

Tonight I cooked the sardines in hot oil for a minute and then poured in teriyaki sauce, which got nice and sticky and almost burnt in spots as it cooked along with the fish. Its potent salty sweetness was a good match for the strong-flavored sardines.

I adapted the side dish from the Crispy Vegetables that accompany Lemongrass-Crusted Skate (sounds good) in Dominique's Fresh Flavors. Margy, the mandoline expert, julienned daikon, carrot, broccoli stems, and celery root, and we tossed them in sesame oil with a little soy sauce and Sriracha hot sauce. Whenever we grew weary from the precision demanded by eating sardines, we could just tear into the rice and veggies with flagrant disregard for any consequences.

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