Friday, January 22, 2010


Vegans, avert your eyes right now.

I’m going to talk about the glories of flesh, food that stares back at you eyeball to eyeball and the smell of a once living creature caramelising on the grill.

I’m not really; I just needed to get those words out of my system. Despite abstaining from meat I love fresh fish, especially cooked whole on the bone. While I remember sharing with my brother the joys of a whole fish, deep fried and bathed in a Thai red curry sauce, for the rest of my family it has always been the anonymity of fillets with barely a hint of the creature that sacrificed itself for our pleasure. At Christmas when I barbecued a snapper, I knew I’d have to serve each of them the white flesh, free of any bones, with the eyes averted.

Such a thing is near impossible with sardines. Sure you can buy the dark fleshed, itty-bitty fillets. Tiny things that just take seconds to cook. But the fishmonger had the freshest looking sardines this week, just aching to be barbecued.

While on a moral level I understand that eating another being may be wrong, so I think it is important to be conscious when consuming them. I want to honour the noble fish, be cognizant of its unwitting sacrifice and fully respect its beauty.

The skin is glorious scale-free silver, with flashes of rainbow colours. It feels firm to the touch. The eyes are clear. Only a small slit is need to remove the organs from its belly, a quick wash in cool water, then pat dry. As you need at least half a dozen per person for a meal, it’s just as well the process is quick and easy.

Stephanie Alexander has a simple suggestion on how to cook this little fish, simply wrap in a vine leaf, secure it with a toothpick and grill over the coals. When I first made these years ago, not long after I became the owner of the aging grape vine, I cooked them on a hibachi. As much as I miss old fashioned barbecuing over glowing embers, the immediacy of the gas model means we cook outdoors more often.

A simple BBQ dinner for two

Scrub the skin of two big, organic potatoes and bake in a hot oven for about 25 minutes, til half cooked. Cut in thick slices then toss with olive oil, fresh rosemary, sea salt and black pepper.

Turn on the barbecue.

Cook the potatoes on a hot plate for a good 10 minutes a side til golden. Toss a bunch of asparagus in the remaining oil and cook for the last minute or too as well.

The fishmonger also had some dear little whiting, so fresh and inviting. I figured on 2 whiting for the SE, 1 for me plus 4-5 sardines each. (The cats got some sardine sashimi and were very happy – 14 little fish cost about $2.60 so slipping them the odd few is no luxury).

On a hot grill cook the whiting (gutted, rinsed and patted dry with a slice or two of lemon in its belly) for about 4 minutes aside, likewise the vine leaf wrapped sardines.

To eat the sardines, remove the toothpick and pull away the now charred leaf. Hold the fish with your hands and slide the fragrant flesh off with your teeth, a side at a time.

Thank you little fishies, you made two humans and a couple of felines very happy.

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Anonymous Lucy said...


I was just writing about getting over a fear of fish heads and you've just written it far better than I ever will.

Delectable. I know its wrong, too...but we eat it so rarely now that the odd little venture into Fish Town feels celebratory.

They look glorious, all lined up, wrapped in their vine leaf coats!

10:06 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Lucy: Thanks for your generosity about my words. I resisted the urge to use larger leaves to hide the head and tail of the fish but the faint hearted may prefer them fully wrapped. Though it wouldn't have looked half as glorious.

1:07 pm  
Blogger Gastronomy Gal said...

If you want a real treat that you don't have to cook - get down to your local Portuguese club - they often do proper portuguese sardines on the hot coals- but yours look fab too

10:50 pm  
Anonymous Term Papers said...

I have a fear of eating fish.I don't like,because its smells so stint. I like beaf rather than fish.

11:42 pm  
Blogger Single White Female said...

Interesting read AOS.
I have just started eating fish once or twice a week and am trying to not be ignorant about them (always making sure they are local and not an endangered species), but their little heads sticking out of the vine leaves...maybe I will stick to dolmades for now :)

11:57 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

SWF - you could always use bigger leaves to cover the eyes :)

4:49 pm  

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