Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Marinated sardines with smoked aubergine and garlic and rosemary focaccia

The sardine season seems to have taken an age to come. On a hot summers day, I can think of little better to eat than a heap of them freshly grilled or even better, barbequed. As a child I couldn’t stand the things. Dad would always cook them and marvel. I ate chicken. Chicken was my friend. Chicken didn’t smell fishy and chicken didn’t have an infinite amount of silly little bones to ruin each mouthful. Why would anyone eat sardines when they could have chicken I would wonder. Now I know damn well. Growing up and acquiring new tastes is a joyful thing. I’m still waiting for cherries.

But back to sardines. I have been a convert many a year now. I filled my flat with smoke whilst the girl was away last July and they shared a fork with cavolo nero and clam. I joked that the washing that draped the clothes horses would never smell the same again. This time there was going to be none of that. Salt and acidity do amazing things to fish, and with a bit of patience I ended up with a dish of cured and marinated sardines that provided a delightful little snack for many sunny evenings. Just like the plates of anchovies that little time-etched ladies hand out in those proper bars on holiday. 

The bread was an important reminder to my lack of recent baking and the happiness a flat filled with the smell of browning crust and roasting garlic can create. I have to hand the wizardry of the focaccia recipe largely to baking GOD Dan Lepard, for which it is based. I have taken his recommendation and reduced the yeast levels, which makes for a timely wait but a tasty crumb. The substantial loaf was wolfed down and I sat there like a cheeky child in disbelief that I could consume so much. 

It is pointless to make a small batch of the smoked aubergine to accompany the fish alone, so the amounts stated are for a decent bowlful. Spread on more bread, stir into pasta or eat with a spoon. Either way it lasts little longer than the loaf. 

Serves 4 


For the marinated sardines: 

12 sardines, butterflied 
500g table salt 
Extra virgin olive oil, to cover 
3 tbsp caster sugar 
3 tbsp white wine vinegar 
1 lemon, zest cut into large strips 
1 red onion, finely sliced 
1 garlic clove, finely sliced 
1 tsp black peppercorns 
6 sprigs fresh oregano 
1 tsp dried oregano 
1 small dried chilli, crumbled 

For the smoked aubergine: 

2 medium aubergines 
2 shallots, finely chopped 
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
1 small dried chilli, crumbled 
1 tsp dried oregano 
1 lemon, zest and juice 
1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika 
1 tbsp tomato puree 
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
3 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves picked 

For the garlic and rosemary focaccia: 

4g fast action dried yeast 
400ml warm water 
500g ‘00’ grade Italian flour 
A large pinch of salt 
8 sprigs of rosemary 
3 garlic cloves 
Sea salt 
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 

To finish:

The pickled onions from the marinade 

Fresh oregano leaves 
1 lemon, zest only 
Extra virgin olive oil

First cure the sardines. Mix the salt and sugar together and pour half into the bottom of a dish large enough to hold the fish side-by-side. Lay the opened out fish on top, then pour over the other half of the salt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for two hours, then rinse all of the salt off the fish and pat dry. Clean the dish and place the sardines back in it, then add the onion, garlic, lemon zest, dried oregano, chilli, fresh oregano, peppercorns and white wine vinegar. Pour over enough extra virgin olive oil to cover then toss all of the ingredients until everything is well distributed. Cover the dish with cling film and refrigerate for 24 hours. 

To make the focaccia, mix the yeast and lukewarm water together in a jug until well combined. Tip the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and stir in the yeasty water until a sloppy dough is achieved. Cover with cling film and leave to prove for 45 minutes. Knead very quickly for thirty seconds before repeating the proving process. Lightly oil a work surface and shape the dough into a large rectangle shape, then perform a blanket fold. Transfer back to the bowl and cover for another 45 minutes. Stretch the dough out again and fold, then on an oven tray of about 25 x 30cm lined with greaseproof paper. Cover with cling film and leave for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200⁰C. 

While the dough is performing it’s final prove, mix the sliced garlic, rosemary and extra virgin olive oil in a small bowl. When the dough is ready, push it out with your fingers so that it nearly fills the oven tray. Push into the surface with your fingers and spoon over the rosemary and garlic oil mixture. Sprinkle very generously with sea salt and slide into the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until evenly golden on the top and cooked through. 

For the smoked aubergine, heat a large griddle pan to a medium-high temperature. Coat the aubergines with olive oil and roll in salt and pepper. Fry for 8-10 minutes on all sides, until the inside is very soft when squeezed. Set aside to cool down. Add a little olive oil to a frying pan and set on a medium-low heat. Soften the garlic, chilli, shallots and dried oregano with the paprika and a little seasoning for about 10 minutes. Add the tomato puree and cook for another 3-4 minutes, stirring to combine. Remove from the heat. When the aubergine has cooled, slice in half and scoop out the middles with a spoon into a food processor. Blitz into a coarse puree, then add the fresh oregano, lemon juice and zest, shallot mixture and olive oil and mix again until everything is well combined. Taste and add more seasoning or lemon juice if necessary. 

To serve, spoon a little of the aubergine puree onto the middle of each plate. Top with three of the sardine fillets, then dot on a little more of the aubergine. Arrange some of the marinated sliced onion on top along with some fresh oregano leaves. Grate over the lemon zest and finish with a little extra virgin olive oil and cracked black pepper.


  1. Mmm - they look delicious, and now I really want pickled sardines!


  2. Looks good. I must say that I’ve only ever had canned sardines, and even then, it was because my mom made me eat it with crackers when I was a kid. LOL. This looks really easy and simple to do, and it also looks pretty good! I love baking bread too, and really can’t wait to try out this focaccia bread. It looks delish.

    Felicia Curtis @ Amelia's Balboa Island

  3. Sardines are often an acquired taste. They are small in size, and you usually have to prepare them in large quantities in order to get any kind of flavor for a meal. However, if they are marinated the right way and added to the right side dishes, then they could be used for a meal.

    Cristopher @ Lamoraga Restaurant