This recipe, inspired by the Sicilian classic, sarde alla beccafico alla palermitana, is less elegant than its muse (a beccafico is a bird with a reputation of being a gourmand because it gorges on ripe figs whenever possible). But what it lacks in delicacy it makes up for with a dynamic contrast of crisp, charred skin; rich, oily fish; and the sweet and salty tang of the stuffing.
Prep: 20 minutes
Grill: About 5 minutes.
BBQ TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
– Long-handled spatula
– Grill screen.
SARDINES: OUT OF THE CAN
Fresh sardines are as different from their canned crammed counterparts as fresh tuna is from canned tuna fish. Fresh sardines are available year round, and it is mostly a matter of demand that dictates supply at your local fish store. Sardines are usually sold whole, gutted, with their heads on. If your fish seller will remove the bones for you, it will streamline your time in the kitchen, but if not, don’t despair; the task is not difficult or time-consuming. As with all fish, look for fresh sardines that are firm and do not smell fishy.
Gas: Direct heat, medium-high (400° to 450°F)
Clean, oiled grate
Direct heat, light ash
12-by-12-inch charcoal bed (about 3 dozen coals)
Clean, oiled grate on lowest setting
Direct heat, light ash
12-by-12-inch bed, 3 to 4 inches deep
Clean, oiled grate set 2 inches above the fire.
INGREDIENTS (MAKES 4 TO 5 SERVINGS)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup pine nuts, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup golden raisins, finely chopped
1 teaspoon capers, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried breadcrumbs
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 pounds fresh sardines, cleaned, heads removed
Oil for coating grill screen
1 lemon, cut into 8 to 10 wedges.
1. Heat the grill as directed.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and pine nuts and sauté until the pine nuts are lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cumin, raisins, capers, breadcrumbs, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
3. Remove the bones from the sardines by grasping the backbone at the head end of the fish and pulling it toward the tail. The whole skeleton should separate from the flesh in one piece.
4. Place some of the stuffing inside each sardine, and mold the fillets around the stuffing to encase it. Coat the outside of the sardines with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil.
5. Place the grill screen on the grill, and coat it with oil. Place the sardines on the oiled screen, cover, and cook for 2 minutes. Flip, cover, and grill until the fish flakes to gentle pressure, about 2 minutes more. If your grill has an external temperature gauge, it should stay at around 450°F. Serve with the wedges of lemon.