Friday, August 13, 2004

Summer means a Portuguese Sardinheira

Portugal and summertime means many things to me, but the most important, and delicious, is grilled sardines. It's the national food of Portugal and can be enjoyed anywhere -- from a street side grill to a 4 star restaurant. You might be thinking "Sardines? Uh, no thanks" but you probably have only experience an oily canned version, if you've ever had them at all. I've eaten more kinds of fish that I can remember, and I can honestly say that a freshly grilled sardine tops my list of favorite fish to eat. By a wide margin. They don't need lemon, sauce, herbs or anything except for sea salt and olive oil. They are perfect in their own right. I dream about them.

When friends gather together in the summer to grill sardines, it's called a Sardinheira. Other food you'll find at a sardinheira is grilled red and green peppers cut into strips and marinated in olive oil, potatoes (fried or boiled), sliced tomato and onion salad, delicious bread, Portuguese beer and vinho verde (a very young and slightly effervescent white wine -- literally "green wine.") We were lucky enough to go to a sardinheira at our friend Daniel's house, near Praia de Ma├žas (Apple Beach.) Our friend Henrique (the head chef at the restaurant I worked) was there, as well as his wife Natalie, and cousins, Rita and Diego, and Diego's girlfriend Inez. Daniel was the sous chef at the restaurant, and had a serious love of grilled sardines. He could eat dozens at one sitting. I still use his particular technique for eating sardines. He would place a sardine on a piece of bread and let the juices soak into it, eating the sardine right off the bread. You eat all the meat around the bones, leaving just a head and guts behind. Then he would take the next sardine and put it on the same piece of bread, letting those juices soak in too. He would keep on doing this, all with the same piece of bread, until he was finished. Then, he would eat the piece of bread, which by that time had soaked up so much juice and flavor; he would eat it and make this face and noise that meant it was delicious beyond words. He was right.

Grilled Sardines

Fresh sardines
Olive oil
Sea salt

Throw a generous amount of sea salt on the sardines, and a little olive oil. Grill over coals about 3-4 minutes per side until skin is crispy and golden. Serve with bread and grilled peppers.