Last month we were planning to grill vine wrapped sardines at a summer BBQ. It should have been a simple trip downtown to the Athens Central Market to get a few kilos of fish. HOWEVER … we hadn’t reckoned with the moon.
Well-known among Greek fishermen is the old adage that little fish (sardines, anchovies and the like) are not to be found in the sea during the time of the full moon. It make sense that small fish seek protection from predators during a time when there is a lot of evening light. I think they go deep…
Eventually, we did net those fish, but anchovies (gavros as seen above) rather than sardines (sardella). Vine wrapped sardines will need to wait for another BBQ moment – just not during a full moon.
Although it takes two days to make these, they keep in the refrigerator for up to a month. They will be ready to come out as meze with a glass of wine (or traditionally ouzo) and anything else that comes to hand, such as olives, hard boiled eggs, tomato wedges, cucumber sticks and chunks of feta cheese. A simple and perfect way to have impromptu drinks and nibbles with friends. An appropriate use since it was friends I have to thank for teaching me this recipe.
*Note the quantities of the ingredients depend on the amount of fish. I used 500g of anchovies which yielded about 30 small anchovies.
- Seasonings (see below)
- Olive oil
First, it is simplest to get your fish monger to remove the head and gut these little fish. It is a messy and time consuming business which can be left to the professionals.
Second, clean your fish in cold water and lay out on paper towels.
Next, put the fish in your container and liberally salt. Pour vinegar over to cover the fish. The type of vinegar you use will add to the flavour of the finished product. The most common vinegar used here in Greece is red wine vinegar. This combination creates an acidic brine that will “cold cook” the fish. Cover and let this sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
The next day, prepare your seasonings (see below for suggestions) and set aside. Remove the container of brined fish from the refrigerator. One fish at a time flatten so that the sides are open and peel off the spine. The spine should come out easily at this point. Discard the vinegar brine.
Layer them flat, skin side down, in a clean container, sprinkling on some of the seasonings between each layer.
When completed, add olive oil to cover. They can be eaten at this point, but they improve if you leave them in the refrigerator for a day or two to take on the flavourings. Note: olive oil tends to become cloudy and can become paste-like in cold environments, so many people use other vegetable oils for this procedure, but I think it affects the taste and the oil always returns to a nice glistening yellow/green once it warms up again.
When finished, save the flavoured oil. It can be used in cooking or as a salad dressing.
These are only suggested combinations, so feel free to try your own. Just keep in mind the tastes from the vinegar you used and the strong fishy flavour of anchovies. You want something to compliment, not conflict or overpower. I’m sure there are more possibilities that those listed here.
- Finely chopped garlic and finely chopped fresh parsley (as in above photographs) or tarragon
- Stripped fresh thyme and finely chopped sun dried tomatoes
- Finely chopped fresh oregano and finely diced fresh red pepper
- Fine lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper
- Finely chopped rosemary and a few hot red pepper flakes