One million eight hundred thousand (1,800,000) kippered sardines were purchased in a single day, February 8, 1434, the beginning of Lent, in the city of Barcelona, according to tax records*. These were salt-cured sardines shipped overland from Galicia.
Over the centuries the Catholic Church, with its many days of abstinence when meat is proscribed, has been the best promoter of eating fish. In the days before refrigeration, people who did not live near the shores where fresh fish were available depended on salt fish of many kinds.
In present times, bacalao, salt cod, is the most prevalent, but those salt sardines are still produced, still sold. Give them a try! It turns out, those stiff, smelly sardines are delicious and ever so versatile.
In Spanish, these are called sardinas arenques or “herring-sardines.” They are not herrings, but they are cured similarly. The word “kippers” usually designates smoked fish, but it actually means fish that is salt-cured and either air-dried or smoked. These sardines are not smoked.
My pueblo fish vendor always has a wooden tub of them, three sardines for one Euro. (In the 15th century, they were three for one maravedi, or approximately 10 centimos.) Felix, the fish seller, said he himself had never eaten a salt sardine! Some of his customers told me how to prepare them. They said that, in order to loosen the flesh from the skin and spine, people used to wrap the sardines in parchment, place them in the door jamb, and slam the door. Pepe said he had never tried that. His directions, “just put them on the plancha (grill) for a minute.”
That´s what I did. A quick turn on a grill just to soften the small fish. Then it was easy to pick the flesh off the bones.
I tasted a piece of the sardine. Salty, yes, but, like anchovies, it had a umami whammy, that yum factor that’s exactly what’s needed to add pizazz to pizza.
|Once warmed, easy to pick flesh from bones.
To prepare kippered sardines: Unlike salt cod, salt sardines do not need to be soaked. Nor do they need to cook. Heat them in a heavy skillet (be sure to turn on the extractor fan). While they are still warm, cut off the heads and tails. Use a spoon to scoop out the desiccated innards and the skin and scales. With a knife tip, lift the fillets off the spine.
Here are some traditional recipes for using the filleted kippered sardines.
Málaga Salad with Oranges, Potatoes and Cod. (Swap sardines for the salt cod.)
Catalan Flatbreads with Mushrooms (Coca). (Substitute salt sardines for the sausage.)
"Cobblestones" Bean Salad (Empedrat). Use sardines in place of cod.
|Traditional pan con tomate: toast rolls or slabs of country bread, scrub them with cut tomato, sprinkle generously with extra virgin olive oil, add toppings such as fillets of salt sardines.
Pasta with Sardines (Pasta con le Sarde)
Pasta con Sardinas, Pasas y Piñones
|The salty umami sardines turn a simple pasta dish into spectacular. This version has spinach, raisins, pine nuts and sprigs of fresh wild fennel.
This is a Spanish adaptation of a Sardinian (Italian) recipe. The salt sardines can be replaced with canned or fresh ones.
Per 1 serving:
1 teaspoon raisins
Pinch of saffron
2 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon pine nuts
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 clove chopped garlic
1 cup chopped spinach
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces spaghetti
1 sprig fennel or slice of fennel bulb
3 cleaned and filleted sardines
1 tablespoon toasted bread crumbs
Place the raisins and saffron in a small bowl and add the hot water. Let them soak 5 minutes. Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the pine nuts until golden. Skim out the pine nuts and reserve them. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and sauté on medium for 5 minutes. Add the spinach and the raisins, saffron and water and cook until the spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook the spaghetti in boiling water with the sprig of fennel. Add ½ cup of pasta water to the pan with the spinach. Drain the pasta. Break the sardines into 2 or 3 pieces and mix them with the sauce in the pan. Add the pine nuts and the spaghetti. Heat thoroughly. Serve the pasta and sauce into a bowl and top with the crumbs.
*The information about commerce of salt sardines in Barcelona comes from this paper EN TORNO AL COMERCIO DE PESCADO ATLÁNTICO IBÉRICO EN EL MEDITERRÁNEO CATALANOARAGONÉS by Roser Salicrú i Llunch IMF- CSIC (Barcelona)