Grilled sardines with chermoula
The food memory is incredible. Who doesn't have strong and precise memories of certain dishes, from the simplest to the most sophisticated ones, even after many years or decades, and of the emotion they brought then: family celebrations, special circumstances, travels? Those sardines fall in the latter category. A few month stay in Morocco, as part of a compulsory student internship program in the first Moroccan bank... more than 4 decades ago. Lucky enough, apart from the bank fastidious tasks, they had been some satisfactions and good memories: fabulous landscapes, great people and marvelous cuisine. One of those pregnant memories is this finger food meal taken on the port by the Portuguese fortress of Safi. Safi is a city located at equal distance from Casablanca and Agadir, which has long been, and was then, the fist sardine fishing harbor in the world. No wonder why there were "foodcarts" everywhere, proposing fabulous sardines, simply seasoned with spices and herbs, and grilled on wood embers...
Although I didn't prepare them exactly like the sardines of the Safi harbor, I had a free trip to Morocco... A lot of people do not like sardines... They miss something. Obviously, this is a fish that may have a strong taste, all the more so as it is not fresh. Those ones were very fresh... almost alive!!! In any case, the Moroccan technique is to associate the sardine strong taste with very tasteful spices... Here, I made a chermoula, a traditional Moroccan marinade and/or sauce, with parsley, garlic, paprika, cumin, ginger, olive oil, lime juice... The chermoula also includes cilantro. I didn't have some, but I had some wild mint in the garden; so I substituted one for the other. This not an heresy as mint is obviously very popular in Morocco, and mint is also a traditional great match with sardines (this is one of the ways they are prepared in Provence).
I had previously gutted the sardines and macerated them for 24 hours in coarse salt with herbs, which starts to cook the sardine and also mitigates its taste. Then, I remove the central bone (it is very easy to do, just using your thumb and your index) and the head, to keep the fillets linked together, like a butterfly... as this method is named in French. I dispose a layer of chermoula on the bottom "butterfly", and toped it with a second butterfly. The chermoula stuffed sardines rested 1/2 to 1 hour in the fridge, before being fryed in a pan with a generous quantity of hot olive oil flavored with the marinade herbs. Served with cherry tomatoes on a bed of arrugula and a few edible flowers.
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