Sardines: an apology. When I was a child, I hated sardines. Slimy, oily things seemingly crammed to the gills (literally!) with sharp and spiky bones. My mother, bless her, knew that these little fish were economical and nutritious but I dreaded them. And, I think if it wasn’t for the promise of Angel Delight to follow, I would have refused them outright. What a brat, right?
Now older and wiser, I know that there is a lot more to the humble sardina pilchardus. And there is a lot more we can do with them than simply decorate slices of toast. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids and high in vitamin D, protein and calcium, sardines are healthy as well as great tasting and deserve to be considered as more than a simple toast-topper. Today on Food Daddy, I am going to share my current favourite way of enjoying these tasty fishes. Fishes? Let me explain…
In a distant and neglected corner of my mind, stored away for rare occasions, are the kinds of trivial fact that might, just perhaps, be useful one day. And one of these is that the plural of fish, while usually understood to be fish, becomes fishes when talking about fish of more than one species. If this fun snippet isn’t, in fact, a fact, then you’ll have to excuse me, I don’t venture too often this far back into the corners of my mind. I’ll get to the point. The recipe I am sharing today concerns sardines but works just as well with fishes from the same family. For example: pilchards (older, and therefore bigger, sardines); sprats (sometimes called brisling); sild (any young herring that isn’t a sprat); and anchovies (more than just great on pizza!). If you do try this sardine recipe with other fish just be sure to take the size of the fish, and therefore the cooking times, into account when frying.
Beer Battered Sardine Bites
For this recipe you can use fresh sardines or the canned versions. Personally, I use canned. It is more convenient, more economical and this recipe is great for a quick improvised meal using store cupboard materials. The last time I cooked this at home was when a group friends turned up unexpectedly with some craft beers they wanted me to try. A great excuse, by the way, when inviting yourself around to a friend’s place for a booze-up.
A quick tip: use the best canned sardines you can find. The cheaper tins are great for dips and spreads but they tend to be a bit fragile and fall apart easily.
When I make my beer battered sardines, I usually use four tins because I like to put out a platter for people to snack on. Simply halve the recipe if you want to make a delicious lunch for two, or quarter for a meal for one. These work really well as appetisers or snacks, especially paired with good beer. However, they also taste great served in a crusty roll generously spread with room temperature butter.
Remove the sardines from the can and, with a knife, carefully separate the fillets into two halves. Note: you can skip this and do them whole. Just take into account when frying. I always halve them because they’re easier to snack on this way. The spines can be removed and discarded (or eaten on their own if you’re one of those rare few that love sardine bones). Lightly dust with all purpose flour.
For the batter
- 2 cups (400g) of all purpose flour
- 1 pint of beer (of your choice)
- Salt to taste
- Something spicy, like cayenne, to taste
To prepare the batter, first mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and then (carefully!) pour in the beer. Depending on the beer of your choice, there is a danger of ‘over-foam’ and wastage. It is therefore good practice to sample a bottle or two of your chosen brew prior to preparing the batter in order to gauge the foaminess. Once the batter is prepared you can add your sardines. To avoid beer battered fingers you can use a spoon or fork to turn the sardines in the bowl. Once coated, allow any excess batter to drip back into the bowl and transfer the fish to your hot oil.
Frying the sardines
The sardines will only require a few inches of hot oil. In a suitable pan bring a neutral oil up to around 170ºC (350ºF) into which you can carefully add the battered sardines making sure not to overcrowd the pan. If you don’t have a thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil, you can drop a small piece of bread into the pan – if it browns in around a minute then your oil is at temperature. Alternatively, dip the end of a wooden spoon into the oil and check the bubbles: no or very few bubbles means the oil is too cold, very vigorous bubbling and the oil is too hot.
Because we split the sardines in two, the cooking time will only be around a couple of minutes. You will know they are ready by the colour of the batter. You can, alternatively, cook them whole. Experience is the best teacher here; after trying this recipe once, you’ll be cooking up these beauties regularly – especially if you make any for your friends, they’ll be asking for some every time you invite them over!
Dips and sauces
Your beer battered sardines will be delicious simply dressed with the some lemon juice but they pair exceptionally well with a number of dips and sauces.
- Go traditional with tartar sauce
- Try lemon infused mayonnaise
- Garlic aioli is simply delicious
- Any spicy chilli sauce
- Sweet and sour or hoisin sauce (consider adding Chinese five spice to the flour mix)
- Ketchup for the kids (and adults!)
If you are making huge batches you might want to preheat the oven at a low temperature to keep the beer battered sardines warm before serving. I find, though, that they keep their heat quite well and batches big enough for six people to snack on do not need to be kept warm in the oven.