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Posts Tagged ‘sardines’

My first husband’s idea of wit was to exclaim, whenever the opportunity presented itself (surprisingly, gratingly, often);  “Anchovies? Smelly little fish!”   The marriage didn’t last long, but if by some warped circumstance we had found ourselves strolling the markets of Vieux Nice last week, I should have been delighted to waterboard him with a vat of poutine in response.

baby anchovies for sale in Vieux Nice

Now, fresh poutine is not smelly but it is most certainly a preponderance of tiny little baby fish: the fry of sardines and, yes-you-guessed-it, anchovies; rather rare, rather restricted and rather delicious, netted strictly by licence, only along the Côte d’Azur between Antibes and Menton, and only for a month at the end of winter (February/March): very local, very special and altogether too good for no-good husbands.  Happily for the peace of the Vieille Ville, I was accompanied by the darling Mr T, whose adult approach to things piscine is a joy, an ichthyic ideal.

Jacques Médecin, controversial erstwhile mayor of Nice, was a passionate advocate of Niçoise cuisine and I quote here from his well-regarded cookbook, La bonne cuisine du Comté de Nice:

A la saison de février, lorsque brille, sur les étals, la nacre de poutine, les rues des villes – vieilles ou nouvelles – retentissent de l’appel des marchandes: “A la bella poutina!  A la bella poutina!”  qui inspira mon vieux camarade de classe Gilbert Becaud dans sa chanson sur les marchés de Provence.

Around February, as the pearly sheen of poutine gleams on the market stalls, town streets – old and new – ring with the call of the vendors: “A la bella poutina!  A la bella poutina!”, the inspiration for my former classmate Gilbert Becaud’s song,  The Markets of Provence [Gastroplod’s rough & ready translation]

and for your extreme pleasure, here’s Gilbert Becaud himself – listen out for him calling “A la bella poutina” at the very end and you will have a charming early-spring echo of  Place St-François in Vieux Nice.


click here for the lyrics (in French)

I took my first and as-yet-only taste of poutine at the Café des Fleurs on the Cours Saleya, in one of its traditional preparations in the form of an omelette.  No surprises here, it tasted just like an omelette with all the briny flavour and savour of very fresh anchovies and sardines, and I did enjoy the sparkle of their teeny-weeny little eyes glinting in the sunlight.
omelette made with seasonal baby fish; sardines, anchovies, in Vieux Nice

French Wiki reference: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poutine_(Nice)

* this poutine has nothing to do with that somewhat-stodgier Québecois fries-gravy-curds speciality also called poutine: although I used to enjoy that version now & then in Vancouver, I know which I’d prefer now…

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Sometimes I just don’t have the guts to deal with whole fish.  I’ve never wholly regained my bravado since the Saturday in 2002 when my kind and thoughtful brother, on the way home from his job delivering spanking fresh fish to temples of gastronomy The River Café, J. Sheekey, Moro, Gordon Ramsay, The Ivy et al, dropped off a sackful of spare sardines.  Ruth & Rosie’s over-orders were my manna from heaven, except this day was a hot one and I was out being a chef myself until late afternoon …

…so by the time I returned home the piscine contents of the black bin liner had settled on my doorstep and dripped a disconcertingly fishy – in every sense – trail of blood into the house and across the floor.  With hindsight, continuing that trail straight out the back door and into the wastebin might have been wise but instead, Mr T and I, thrilled by the sight of such bounty, seized a filleting knife and set to our very own kitchen sink mattanza.  And as with all gore-fests, somewhere around the 23rd gutted sardine, queasy from the carnage and unable to meet the gaze of any more bloodshot eyes, we lost our mutual appetite, decided to double-wrap it up and dispose of the entire bundle where it should have gone in the first place, feigning nonchalance as net curtains twitched.

Ever since I’ve been happy to pay a professional to clean, cut and cook their delicious little bodies on my behalf.  Until just last week that is, when awaiting my turn at the Sainsbury’s what should I spy gliding atop the neighbouring checkout but a neat little package of eight headless and gutted Cornish somethings beginning with s.  At £1.89 a pop I went for it and they turned out pretty good, in a land-lubber kind of way.
sardines from Sainsbury\'s
I hesitate to call this a recipe as all I did was grind a tablespoon or so of fennel seeds with a couple of chilli peppers, zest half a lemon and toss the sardines with them all in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil to lubricate.  Set that lot aside while the barbecue warmed up and then grilled for 5 minutes each side.  I might have stuffed them with fennel or some such, but this time we enjoyed them with just a wedge of lemon – don’t want to overdo it…
Sardines grilled with chilli, fennel and lemon zest

Of course they weren’t a patch on fresh from the sea, but you don’t get those every day…

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Ah, bliss! A beautiful bank holiday weekend.  Down in the South East we have it good; while the rest of the land experience rain we enjoy the sunshine.  And now it’s sunny and warm we can haul the patio furniture from under its tarpaulin, chill a bottle of Corsican rosé – a pale, mass-produced vin de pays de l’Ile de Beauté evocative of summer lunches in Old Nicebrilliant sunshine, Corsican rose on a turquoise table
and nibble on a simple chickpea salad

chickpea salad with red onion and parsley

and some sardine bruschetta (using the artisan bread, natch – see previous post).

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