Sardines are plentiful in Portuguese cuisine. For the marinated sardines recipe by Lisbon’s famed chef Ljubomir Stanisic, you let the salt and citrus do the “cooking.”
- 1 pound fresh sardines rinsed
- 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 lime
- 1/2 pound coarse salt
- 3/4 teaspoon smoked salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 stalk lemongrass outer leaves removed, chopped
- 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves plus 5 sprigs for garnish
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon ginger powder
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds for garnish (optional)
Clean and fillet the sardines: Starting at the tail and using the back of the blade of a paring knife, gently scrape the skin toward the head to remove the scales, then rinse under cool water to remove any remaining scales. Then, starting where the tail meets the body, cut the belly open with the paring knife; scrape out the entrails with your finger and discard them. Rinse the belly cavity clean and then pat the fish dry using paper towels. To fillet, hold the head between your thumb and forefinger and pull backward toward the spine, tearing the head from the body; discard the head. Gently flatten the sardine, skin side down. Starting at the head end, grasp the backbone between thumb and forefinger and carefully lift it up and away from the fillet; discard the backbone. Repeat with all the fish. Set aside.
Zest and juice the lemon and lime, reserving the combined zest and combined juice separately.
In a wide, rimmed container, mix together the coarse salt, smoked salt, and lemon and lime zest. Nestle the sardines, skin side up, in the salt mix and refrigerate for 2 hours. Rinse and pat dry the fillets.
In a container just wide enough to fit the fillets in one layer, mix together the olive oil, lemon and lime juice, lemongrass, thyme, garlic powder, ginger powder, bay leaf, and pepper. Add the sardine fillets, toss to coat, arrange skin side down, cover, and refrigerate for 3 days.
To serve, bring to room temperature, transfer the fish and a bit of the marinade to a shallow serving bowl, then top with fresh thyme sprigs and coriander.
Photography Fabrice Demoulin