Flipping through Mary Karlin’s “Mastering Fermentation” book, I came across the section that focuses on seafood. Being a huge fan of pickled herring, my eye went straight to the recipe for pickled sardines with fennel and I made a mental note that I would have to try that recipe someday. I wasn’t sure when or how because my better half dislikes pickled herring about as much as I love it. So much so that I buy it when he is going to be out of town so he won’t smell the distinctive aroma in the house.
But three weeks ago, while doing our weekly grocery shopping, we walked past the fish counter at Whole Foods and saw a whole tote full of ice and fresh sardines on sale for $3.99 a pound. The pickled sardine experiment only needed a pound of fish and amazingly when I asked Chuck if he was game to give it a go, he said, “yes”! I had the fish monger wrap up four sardines before he could change his mind.
When we got home, we had the quick task of cleaning the sardines by cutting off the heads and tails and removing the innards. Yes, I could have had the fish monger do this for us but,
a) where’s the sport in that?,
b) since have blue gills in our aquaponics garden that we need to filet, we have to learn how to do it sometime, right?, and
c) that would have allowed more time for Chuck to change his mind!
The next step was to salt the fish, cover them with cheesecloth and put them in the refrigerator overnight. This drew out a little bit of moisture that could be disposed of the next day before getting the fishies in the pickling jar.
The brine was a simple mixture of sea salt, water, cider vinegar, honey, raisins, fennel, bay leaf and peppercorns. (See Mary’s book for the full recipe.)
Assembly was child’s play. Simply put the four fillets in the jar along with some fennel fronds as garnish and fill it up with the brine.
After a day at room temperature and a week in the refrigerator, the fish are ready to either eat as is or to cook up into a meal. Chuck opted for the later so we pan-fried the fillets and served them with a side of sautéed shredded brussels sprouts.
I watched as he took his first bite. Would he like it or would I be eating two servings of sardines that night? I am happy to report that his verdict was positive and even earned a “yep, we can make those again”.
It remains to be seen if we will or will not make pickled sardines again though. While we both enjoyed the two meals we got from that pound of sardines, the smell of fish has still not left our pickling jar. That aroma has been in the house for days now and that’s much longer that it has ever been with my occasional impulse purchases of pickled herring! Perhaps this is one of those fermented dishes that I will continue to purchase clandestinely when there is no one around to smell the evidence! Only time will tell.