Fish of the month
Sardine fennel salad
Sardines can tend to be a little crumbly or even mushy, hence their traditional pairing with crisp toast. I like this dish as the croutons add even more crunch, while the strong lemon and fennel flavours balance the sardines oiliness.
4 or 5 Cornish sardines
Walnut of butter
1 tsp olive oil
Enough sunflower oil to reach a depth of 1 inch in an uncoated metal saucepan
1 or 2 slices white sliced bread
1 head of fennel
1 unwaxed lemon
Crisp lettuce, eg Cos
Optional: shot glass of dry vermouth
If your sardines are not already trimmed and gutted, see tinyurl.com/TasterSardine - Duncan Lucas (Passionate About Fish) gives a perfect demonstration of how to do so. Cut the ends off the lemon and slice the rest finely, removing any pips. Squeeze the juice out of the ends of the lemons over the sardines, and rub the fish with a little olive oil. Wash and slice the bottom off the fennel. Slice the fennel, cutting the slices in half if you have a large specimen, and set aside any green fronds. Cut the crusts off the bread and cut each slice into 9 squares. Wash the salad leaves. Ensure you have a slotted spoon and kitchen paper to hand.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a shallow pan. Throw in the fennel and stir to coat the slices. Turn the heat down low, lay the lemon slices on top of the fennel, and leave to cook gently. Heat the sunflower oil and test it by dropping in a fragment of bread crust - it should start bubbling on the surface. Drop the bread squares in carefully and watch closely: croutons burn in an instant. When they are perfectly golden-brown, turn off the heat and lift them out of the oil with a slotted spoon onto kitchen paper. Salt very lightly. Grill the sardines for four minutes, turning once halfway through. If using vermouth: After grilling, add the sardines to the fennel pan and turn the heat up. When it starts to sizzle, pour in the vermouth. There should be an almighty hissing - wonderful! Stir the fish and vegetables very gently, just to get the flavour of vermouth. Plate the sardines as soon as they are cooked, with the salad leaves, fennel and croutons. Garnish with the fennel fronds and lemon slices.