(Photo: Tommaso staring down a fried sardine: this is one metaphysical moment)
A simple rule for buying fish goes as follows: buy what’s fresh, as opposed to what you want. The idea may sound counterintuitive but freshness is king when it comes to seafood. I’m mentioning the whole buying fresh seafood concept today because I headed to my favorite fish shop thinking salmon for dinner and I came home with whole sardines and smelt. I’ve become friendly with my local fish monger and given that he 1. told me about the fresh sardines and smelt that just came in and 2. that the wild salmon wasn’t looking superb I opted for the fish monger’s suggestion as opposed to the salmon I was craving.
(photo: closeup of a close friend: Sardine Scordo – notice his great eyes and skin))
(photo: beheaded smelts waiting for flour and the frying pan, notice the beautiful skin)
I grew up with smelts as they are a favorite amongst Calabrians especially during the winter months and, at times, during the traditional Christmas Eve fish fest. Smelts are small, fresh water (native to New England as well!), fish and are best prepared whole and fried with a light coating of flour (I like mine with lots of kosher salt and a splash of red wine vinegar). While smelts were common during my childhood, we consumed sardines mostly via the salt or oil packed variety. And I do love canned sardines, but the fresh variety (again, lightly floured and fried) is fish nirvana! Fresh sardines have an oily and firm texture and are high in omega acids. Fresh sardines do contain many small bones, but part of the eating fun is using your hands and finding nuggets of steaming white meat and crispy skin!
(photo: sardine nirvana)
(photo: post fry sardines. notice the very light flour coating, you’re not making Kentucky Fried Chicken here)
(photo: post fry smelts, salted heavily with kosher salt)
(photo: our simple dinner table)
Our sardine and smelts dinner included wild dandelions and brown jasmine rice. The dandelions were sautéed with garlic, olive oil, and some red pepper flakes. The brown rice was tossed with olive oil and lots of fresh ground pepper. We had a bottle of Altos de Luzon
2003 Jumilla (a Spanish wine consisting of 50% Monastrell, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Tempranillo). Admittedly, I thought the wine wouldn’t pair well with fish, wild greens, and nutty brown rice, but I was shocked at how well it tasted with our meal. Proving again that consuming wine is about drinking what you like (or at least what your mouth tells you it likes with the food you are consuming).