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Recipe: Charcoal sardines in saffron vinegar and almond oil

‘This simple combination of saffron, almond and sardines is wonderful’, says Australian chef Josh Niland

“This simple combination of saffron, almond and sardines is wonderful, says Josh Niland: “the saffron vinegar brings an elegant floral sweetness that perfectly complements the savoury minerality of the grilled fish. It is important that the whole sardines are rested for a couple of minutes after grilling to ensure the flesh comes away from the bone nicely.”

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main

Ingredients

  • 8 sardines, gutted, head and tail on
  • 80ml grapeseed oil
  • sea salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbsp almond oil
  • garum or fish sauce, to taste
  • slivered almonds, to garnish (optional)

    To make the saffron vinegar: 

  • small pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 litre of chardonnay vinegar

Method

  • To make the saffron vinegar, add the saffron to the vinegar in a sterile mason jar or clean airtight container. Stir to combine and store at room temp for 24 hours minimum. The longer you can leave this to develop flavour the better – it can be made in advance and will keep in the pantry, gradually becoming more flavourful. Use it in salad dressings.
  • Either preheat a chargrill pan over a high heat or a charcoal grill with evenly burnt-down embers. Thread the sardines onto metal or soaked bamboo skewers. Brush with the grapeseed oil and season with salt flakes.
  • Grill for around a minute on each side, or until evenly coloured and the flesh is warm to the touch.
  • Tip the grill rack to free the fish onto a clean surface, or use an offset spatula. While you want the skin to be well coloured, it is critical that the sardines are still a little underdone. The saffron vinegar will finish off the “cooking” process. Leave the fish to rest for 2 mins.
  • Brush with almond oil and season with a little salt and a touch of pepper, then place in the centre of a plate. Dress with a spoonful of the saffron vinegar, garum or fish sauce to taste, and a few drops of almond oil. Top with slivered almonds, if you like.

    To make the garum: 

  • calculate the total weight of heads, bones and scraps you have from small fish such as sardines, mackerel, sardines or gurnard (removing the gall bladder).
  • Measure 50% of that weight in water and add to the trimmings.
  • Calculate 20% of the combined weight and add this quantity of fine salt.
  • Mix, transfer to a mason jar, seal and place in a circulator bath set to 40°C. Stir once a day for 7 days.
  • Store in an airtight jar in the fridge for up to a month.
  • Alternatively, garum is available from online food specialists.
Take One Fish

Taken from Take One Fish: The New School of Scale-to-Tail Cooking and Eating by Josh Niland, published by Hardie Grant at £26. To buy from The Week Bookshop for £20.99, call 020-3176 3835 or visit theweekbookshop.co.uk.

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