This recipe takes a few days, but it's a magnificent way to take advantage of fresh sardines. The cured fillets are luscious and intensely flavored. The salad provides a tasty backdrop for the meaty fish as well as a contrast in textures.
Make Ahead: The sardines need to cure in salt for 2 days.
- 1/3 cup coarse sea salt
- 8 large fresh sardines (heads removed), scaled and gutted
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (see NOTE)
- 4 ribs celery, cut into very thin slices
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Focaccia bread, sliced and toasted
Sprinkle a little of the sea salt in a container just large enough to hold the fish in a single layer. Lay the fish down with the spines facing downward and belly cavities facing up. Sprinkle the remaining salt over the top. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 days.
Rinse the sardines under cold water to remove the salt. Gently fillet each fish by running a finger down the spine to release the fillets, which should come off with ease. Taste a small portion of a fillet; if it is too salty, soak the fillets in cool water for a few minutes. Pat the fillets dry and arrange them on individual plates. Sprinkle each portion with the vinegar, then drizzle with the oil.
Combine the walnuts, celery, crushed red pepper flakes and pepper to taste in a medium bowl; toss to mix well. Spoon the nut mixture over the fillets.
Serve with toasted bread.
NOTE: Toast walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-low heat for 4 to 6 minutes or until fragrant, shaking them occasionally to keep them from burning.
Adapted from "For Cod and Country," by Barton Seaver (Sterling Epicure, 2011).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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