I love sardines - canned or fresh. My addiction started as a child when my mother would serve sardines from a can with a dab of kewpie mayonnaise. Packed with protein and fun to eat, they are also better for big blue because they are low on the food chain.
When you can get your hands on some fresh sardines - take the challenge. Make sure that the eyes of the fish are not cloudy and the skin looks shiny and sparkly. My local Japanese fish market always has some wild sardines in stock. It's best to go in the morning and eat it that day. Don't freeze these suckers because when it comes time for defrosting, the guts will be all oozy and the eyes bloody. Yeah. Gross.
Generally, fish mongers will not clean the sardines for you because it would really take up too much of their time. I would just feel bad, even if they did offer because I usually buy at least 6 at a time.
The process may seem daunting but once you clean two, it almost becomes meditative. And learning to scale and clean a small fish is a great un-intimidating way of getting your hands into the world of cleaning fish.
Scaling a Fish
One of the things that makes me gag (besides cooking octopus) is when I am eating fish and I can feel a
Scaling is an easy task - just take the back of your knife and in a downward motion (from tail to head) shave off the
Cleaning the Fish
Get ready for an intimate relationship with your fresh friends.
Locate the anus.
Make an incision with the sharp side up with your knife from the anus all the way to the head. The reason why you open up the fish sharp side up is that if you do it the other way, you might puncture all the innards and it would just be more of a mess than necessary.
Okay, now that you have opened up the sardine from anus to throat you will see the wonderful anatomy of the sardine - bladder to esophagus. Take all the innards out with your fingers. Run it under some cold water to wash away any residue.
I usually keep a cutting board nearby where I can proudly accumulate my clean fish.
Here's a video to drive the point home. (Thanks http://incompetech.com/ for the royalty free music. The title of the song is "Four Beers Polka")
And now for a to-die-for nikomi (simmered) sardine dish.
Sardines simmered with Ginger and Umeboshi
1-2 inches ginger
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp mirin
1/4 cup sake
1/4 soy sauce or tamari
1. Clean sardines.
2. Cut off the head and tail and divide the sardine in half (do not filet).
3. Slice the ginger into thick coins - skin on.
4. Puncture the umeboshi with a toothpick in several places.
5. Put all the ingredients for the simmering liquid into the pan over medium heat.
6. Once it starts to simmer, place the fish, umeboshi and ginger in the pan. Make sure not to overlap the fish. Use the lid, but don't cover it complete - leave room for a little bit of steam to escape.
7. Simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes. The simmering liquid should reduce to about 1/2 of its original amount.
Over a fresh bed of rice, this dish was addictive. The salty soy sauce, sweet mirin and sour umeboshi served as an amazing base for the sardines which turn out fluffy. The zing of the ginger is an essential touch as well.