Saturday, May 27, 2023


Summer is the season for fresh sardines. 

Sardine season has arrived! ¡Que vivan las sardinas! Head for the beach to enjoy espetones, sardines skewered and grilled on a wood fire. Bake them with wine and pine nuts. Flour and fry the tiny ones. Get fancy with stuffed sardines. Add a vinegar marinade for escabeche, a terrific cold dish for summer. (See the links below for these recipes.)

“Smoked sardines” appear on chefs’ menus, but I haven’t been able to find them in cans. So I decided to smoke some myself. The process is pretty simple and no special smoker is needed. It does require several steps, starting five days in advance.

A plate of smoked sardines, ready to serve. 

Serve smoked sardines drizzled with olive oil on toasts. Strips of piquillo pepper are a good contrast.

Two-toned smoked sardine fillets are due to smoking in two batches. The second batch is not so bronzed, as it needed to have the smoking herbs replenished. Next time I will know.

Unzip sardine bones.

1. Clean the sardines, fillet them. (Unlike canned sardines, the sardine bones won’t soften with cold-smoking.) Soak the fillets in ice water for one hour. Drain and dry them well.

2. Freeze the filleted sardines for 5 days. As the sardines will be cold-smoked (no direct heat), freezing eliminates any possible parasites that occur in raw fish. (For more information- plus recipes- about freezing fish for raw consumption: HOW NOT TO COOK YOUR FISH.)

3. Thaw the sardines overnight in the refrigerator. Dry them on layers of paper towels. 

Place fillets on layer of salt.

4. Layer the sardines with coarse salt. Leave them to cure, refrigerated, 30 minutes. Rinse off the salt and pat them dry. Air-dry them in a cool place one hour.

5. Line a heavy pan or flat-bottomed wok with foil. Place (store-bought) wood powder or chips, dried herbs, grape-vine twigs on top of the foil. Place a rack over the herbs. Cover the pan and place it on high heat until the contents are dried and beginning to smoke. 

6. Place the sardine fillets on the rack in a single layer. Cover the pan. Heat on high until smoke fills the pan. Reduce heat to low and smoke the sardines 10 minutes. 

Sardines smoke on a rack in a covered pan.

Equipment and ingredients needed
Paper towels
Coarse salt
Heavy pan with tight-fitting lid, preferably glass in order to gauge smoke
Aluminum foil
Rack to fit inside the pan
Dried herbs such as rosemary, thyme, fennel, lavender, bay leaf, citrus leaves, grape-vine twigs or store-bought wood chips or powder. 

Smoked Sardines
Sardinas Ahumadas

Cut sprigs of fresh herbs several days before smoking and allow them to dry. Do the same if using, for instance, lemon peel or twigs of grape vines or fruit wood. You can also purchase wood chips or sawdust for smoking. You are not going to set the herbs on fire, but simply heat them on the stove until they begin to smoke. Lining the pan with foil prevents blackening the pan. 
For the quick cure before smoking, you will need enough coarse salt to completely cover the sardine fillets. Sugar, black pepper, herbs, lemon or other aromatics can be added to the salt, if desired. These very small fish need only 20 to 30 minutes curing time. Longer and they will be way too salty. Likewise, they are fully smoked in 10 minutes. Longer smoking causes their flesh to harden. 

How to serve smoked sardines:
Serve smoked sardines on toasts as an appetizer. Toss them with salad greens and vinaigrette. Mash them with creamed cheese and lemon juice to make a spread. Chop them into a chowder. Serve them, along with fried green peppers, as topping for a pan of migas (fried bread crumbs). Toss with spaghetti. 

1 pound fresh sardines (approx. 20 fish) 
1 cup coarse salt (8 ½ ounces)
1 tablespoon sugar
Sprigs of dried rosemary or thyme
Bay leaf
Citrus leaf or strip of lemon zest
Aromatic stove-top wood chips or powder (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil

Soak sardines in ice water.
Five days before smoking the sardines

Clean and fillet the sardines: Working on several thicknesses of newspaper, slide off the scales from the tail to the head. Cut off the heads and remove the guts. Grasp the top of the spine between thumb and forefinger. With the thumb and forefinger of the other hand, loosen the flesh around the spine and draw it down, “unzipping” the fillets as you go. Use kitchen scissors to cut away the spine, leaving the two fillets attached on the dorsal side and at the tail. Wash the fillets well and place them in a bowl. Cover them with salted ice water and let stand 1 hour.

Dry sardines on paper towel.
Freeze the sardines. Rinse the sardines again. Pat them dry on paper towels. Place in a covered container and freeze them for 5 days. Thaw the sardines overnight in the refrigerator.

Cure the sardines in preparation for smoking
Combine the salt and sugar. Spread a layer of the salt mix in the bottom of a lidded container (glass or ceramic is best, plastic is acceptable). Spread a layer of sardine fillets, skin-side down, on the salt. Cover them with more salt. Add another layer of sardines and cover with salt. 

Cover the container and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the sardines from the salt. (Discard salt.) Wash the sardines in cold water. (If the sardines are not to be smoked immediately, cover and refrigerate them until ready to finish the process.) Dry the sardines on paper towels.

Place the sardine fillets on a rack in a cool, airy place or, uncovered, in the fridge so that their surface dries before smoking.

Place dried herbs, wood powder on foil in pan.
Smoke the sardines
Use a heavy pot with tight-fitting lid. Line the pot with foil. Place sprigs of rosemary or thyme, bay leaf and citrus leaf or lemon zest and wood powder, if using, on the foil. Place a rack on top of the herbs. Put the lid on the pot and place it on a high heat until the contents are dried and beginning to create smoke. 

Lay the sardines, skin side down, in a single layer on the rack. Return the pot to the heat. When the pot again fills with smoke, lower the heat to medium and smoke the sardines 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and remove the lid. Carefully remove the rack with the sardines.

If smoking a second round of sardines, to create more aromatic smoke, add a few new sprigs of the dried herbs to the ones already in the bottom of the pan.

Place the smoked sardines on a serving plate. Drizzle them generously with olive oil. If they are to be stored, place the sardines in a container with a lid, cover them completely in oil and refrigerate them, covered, up to 1 week. 

More recipes with sardines:

Saturday, May 20, 2023



Municipal elections across Spain are only a week away, but the only campaign slogan I’m signing on with is “Ni un solo día sin alcachofa”. Not a single day without artichokes. I endorse this platform, the promotional campaign of Alcachofa de España. I could eat artichokes every day. 

Although the season for fresh-cut artichokes, which begins before Christmas, is coming to an end, it’s a vegetable readily available in jars and frozen all year round.

The English name, artichoke, comes from the Spanish, alcachofa, which, in turn, derives from the Arabic, al-kharshûf, meaning a thistle. The artichoke plant, a mutation of another thistle, the cardoon (cardo), probably originated in Egypt/North Africa. 

Spain is the second largest producer of artichokes in Europe. Murcia (eastern Mediterranean coast) is the largest growing region for this delectable vegetable.

Discard outer leaves and top half of the artichoke.
Prepping artichokes can be complicated—remove outer leaves, pare the stem, cut the leaves off down to the heart, extract the fuzzy choke. Or, simple—just cook them in boiling water until a leaf pulls off easily and let each person dismantle his/her own. Either way, an artichoke produces a lot of debris, good for the compost bin. 

Don’t worry too much about artichokes’ tendency to oxidize and darken. Definitely don’t soak them in acidulated water, as that takes away their very special flavor. Prep them as close as possible to when you’re ready to cook them. If possible, drop them into the cooking water or oil as they are trimmed. If cutting up the artichokes stains your fingers, rub them with a cut lemon, not the artichokes. 

Here’s a recipe for artichokes as they are prepared in Córdoba. They are first sautéed, then braised in the wine of the region, fino from the Montilla-Moriles wine region of Córdoba. Montilla is a fortified wine much like Sherry, another Andalusian wine that is made in Jerez, for which it can be used interchangeably. The artichokes are even better cooked in amontillado, which is more full-bodied and mellow than fino.  Although artichokes are famously difficult to pair with wine, they go just fine with fino. 

This is a vegetarian version of this dish. However, if you order it in a Córdoba tavern, it will probably include slivers of serrano or ibérico ham (from the Córdoba region of los Pedroches) as a garnish with the finished artichokes. In this case, they may be braised in a ham or chicken stock instead of plain water. 

Artichokes braise in a sauce with garlic, saffron and  fino wine from Montilla-Moriles (Córdoba). 

Artichokes, Córdoba Style
Alcachofas a la Cordobesa

Serves 6 as a starter.

8-10 medium artichokes (2 ½ pounds)
1 slice lemon
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
3 tablespoons hot water
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup chopped onion
4 cloves chopped garlic
1 teaspoon flour
½ cup fino Montilla or Sherry wine
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt 
Freshly ground black pepper
Sprigs of fresh mint

Scoop out fuzzy choke.

Trim the artichokes. Pare the stem. Remove two or three layers of outer leaves. Cut the artichoke crosswise about a third from the bottom. Discard upper leaves. Use a melon baller to scoop out the fuzzy choke in the center. Drop the artichoke bottom as prepared into a bowl filled with water to which a a few stems of parsley and lemon slice have been added.

Crush the saffron in a mortar. Dissolve in the hot water. Reserve.

Sauté artichokes with garlic, onions.

Heat the oil in a cazuela or wide pan. Sauté the onion and garlic on medium heat until softened, 4 minutes. Drain the artichokes. Cut each one in half (or quarters, if they are very large). Add the artichokes to the pan and turn them in the oil for 1 minute. Sprinkle with the flour. Stir in the wine and allow the alcohol to cook off, 1 minute. Add the saffron water, 1 cup of water, salt, pepper and one sprig of mint. Cover and cook until artichokes are very tender, 20-25 minutes. Add additional water, if needed, so there is always some sauce in the pan. Discard the cooked mint.

Serve the artichokes hot, room temperature or cold with the sauce in which they cooked. Garnish with sprigs of fresh mint.

The white fluff is an artichoke flower bearing seeds.

Optional version of Córdoba-style artichokes is finished with serrano or ibérico ham. 

More recipes with artichokes:

Saturday, May 13, 2023



Garlicky spinach is dressed up with crispy croutons and quartered egg.

Sure, steamed spinach is good, tossed with a little butter or olive oil, maybe a few drops of vinegar. But, it’s even better dressed up with sauce or extra flavorings. Here’s a version of “creamed” spinach that’s especially good.

In this recipe for spinach, typical of Jaén (interior Andalusia) and La Mancha, the “cream” sauce isn’t a bechamel, but is made with bread and garlic. Caraway seeds are typical and are unusually good with spinach. Croutons of fried bread add texture. 

If served as a side dish, quartered, hard-boiled eggs make a good garnish for the spinach. Or serve a good-sized portion topped with a fried egg for a terrific (vegetarian) lunch or supper dish. Alternatively, stir one or two beaten eggs into the spinach immediately before removing from the heat.

Serve this spinach dish as a side or add eggs and serve it as the main dish for lunch or supper.

Add a fried or poached egg per person to the spinach.

Spinach is creamy from mashed up bread.

Spinach with Crispy Croutons
Espinacas con Picatostes

Serves 6 as a side or 4 as a light main dish. 

3 slices bread, crusts removed (about 5 ounces)
3 cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Pinch of ground cloves
½ teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
1 ½ pounds fresh spinach, washed and trimmed, or 1 (14-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed
2 tablespoons chopped onions
Freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon caraway seeds

Fry croutons, garlic.

Cut 2 slices of the bread into ¾-inch croutons. Lightly crush 2 cloves of the garlic. Heat the oil in a small skillet with the 2 cloves of garlic. When garlic begins to sizzle, add the diced bread in a single layer. Fry until bread is browned on one side. Turn the croutons so they brown on all sides. Skim croutons and garlic out of the oil and reserve them.

Add the remaining slice of bread to the skillet and brown it on both sides. Remove the bread. Remove the skillet from the heat and reserve the oil.

Scissors to cut up spinach.
If using fresh spinach, place it in a pan large enough to hold it. Cook over medium heat until the spinach is wilted. Add water if necessary. Drain the spinach. Use scissors to cut the spinach up. (If using thawed frozen spinach, chop it if necessary.)

Remove skins from the 2 cloves of fried garlic and one uncooked garlic. Place them in a mortar or blender with the slice of fried bread, broken into pieces. Add the vinegar, cloves, pimentón and 2 tablespoons of water. Allow a few minutes for the fried bread to soften, then crush or blend to make a smooth paste.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil in the large pan. (Remaining oil can be strained and used for another purpose.) Sauté the onions until they are softened, 3 minutes.

Add the spinach to the pan and stir it in the oil for 1 minute. Add the bread-garlic paste, ½ teaspoon salt (or, to taste), pepper and ½ cup of water. Cook 10 minutes. Stir in the caraway seeds and cook 1 minute. (If using beaten eggs, stir them in at this point.)

Fry one egg per person.

Place the spinach in a bowl or platter and scatter the fried croutons on top. Serve garnished with quartered hard-boiled eggs or 1 fried egg per person.