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Sardines, a star in Spanish cuisine

Wiki Spanish Food editorial team

In his book El que hem menjat (What We Have Eaten), Catalan author Josep Pla writes that “people who enjoy cooking with fish know perfectly well that the sardine is the best edible fish". The sardine's popularity abounds in Cantabria, Galicia, the Basque Country, and along the Mediterranean Coast.

Sardines may be considered a delicacy by the working class, but they have also achieved great prestige among most gourmets. It's much more than a tiny treasure of the sea that always seems to want to us to eat it with our fingers and dirty our hands with its oil.

A versatile product

The sardine is highly versatile in modern-day cooking, and can be prepared in brine, breaded, fried and baked, although a very popular method of preparation is to grill them. They can be smoked or salted and canned in olive oil, with or without tomato. They can also be preserved in a can for several years in a vinegar marinade, since it's a fish that improves with time.

A fresh sardine is characterized by its stiffness, a lack of blood stains and shiny eyes. Gastronomically speaking, when it comes to sardines, the smaller the better.

Nutritionists recommend offsetting the sardine's high cholesterol content by pairing it with a crisp rosé wine. Often eaten in spring but most popular in summer, peak season is from June to October.

Sardine season

Although they're available in the Mediterranean region in spring, according to a popular Spanish saying, it's better to wait to eat them in May, and they're even tastier in June. In fact, as from la noche de San Juan (the night of fire), on June 24th, sardines are eaten across many of Spain's coastal villages, as they adapt perfectly to local festivals.

They are featured on the menus of both traditional and modern restaurants since their strong flavor generally leaves a lasting impression and they can be used in all kinds of recipes, from classic to contemporary. They are a true treasure because they're inexpensive and just about everyone likes them. In the future, sardines will become increasingly appreciated for their qualities in cooking, their healthy properties and, of course, their flavor.

At SERGI AROLA-GASTRO restaurant, in Madrid, award-winning, innovative chef Sergi always pays tribute to this fish by including it on the menu in some shape or form. This year's recipe is Roasted sardines with fried egg yolk and black trumpet mushrooms. Another top restaurant in Madrid, ASTURIANOS, of which Belarmino Fernandez's sons have taken the reins, continues to garner success with its Sardines marinated in cider with tomato soup. Southern Spain is land of the espeto (skewered, grilled sardines): CHIRINGUITO PEPES BAR, in Marbella, is a great place to try espeto and other coastal fish. Another option is EL MALAGUEÑO, in Benalmádena, which is one of the province's most popular restaurants all summer long, as people flock there to try its spectacular espetos.

On the Cantabrian sea, CURRITO, in the coastal town of Santurtzi, been offering views of the port and serving grilled sardines for many years. At RIO COVES, in Pontedeume (A Coruña), a former salt warehouse beside the estuary, sardines have pride of place on the menu and are prepared using traditional recipes in which they are cut open, salted and dried in the sun. And at CELDENI, in Barcelona, chef Dani Lechuga serves delicious marinated sardines.

ADDRESSES

SERGI AROLA-GASTRO. Zurbano 31. Tel.: 913 102169. Madrid

ASTURIANOS. Vallehermoso, 94, Tel.: 915 335 947. Madrid

CHIRINGUITO PEPES BAR. Avda. del Mar, s/n Tel.: 952 822 475 Marbella. Málaga.

EL MALAGUEÑO. Antonio Machado, 81. Tel.: 952 443 029. Benalmádena. Málaga

CURRITO Avda. Murrieta 21, Tel.: 944 937 308. Santurtzi. Bizkaia.

RIO COVES. Esteiro, 9. Tel.: 981 434 057. Pontedeume. A Coruña.

CALDENI. Valencia, 452, Tel.: 932 325 811. Barcelona.

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11/12/2014