Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 57 minutes
- 8-12 fresh sardines, scaled and gutted
- 8-12 grape or fig leaves
- Olive oil
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup finely chopped mushrooms
- 2 T. chopped parsley
- 2-4 chopped garlic cloves
- 1 T. of your favorite herb -- I like to use basil in summer, sage in winter
- 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Make the stuffing. Combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the breadcrumbs, mushrooms, herbs, garlic, onion and salt in a food processor and buzz until combined. Do not work the mixture too long or the texture will taste odd. Just pulse it a few times so it comes together. Let this stand while you debone the sardines.
Debone the sardines. Once you have scaled and gutted sardines, you need to remove most of the bones so you can eat them easily. Do this by taking your sharpest knife -- a fillet knife is the best for this -- and cutting along each side of the backbone behind the ribs.
Once you do this, slip the point of the knife (facing away from the backbone) under the ribs and free them from the meat. Do this on each side.
Using scissors or kitchen shears, cut the backbone where it meets the tail and where it meets the head. You can remove the head if it bothers you; I leave mine on.
To remove the backbone, work your thumb and forefinger alongside the backbone at the tail end to free it, and carefully lift it up as you go toward the head. Push down the meat as you go. Once you get near the end of the ribs, it will all come away with lots of bones attached. You now have a cleanly split sardine.
All this sounds difficult, but it isn't once you get the hang of it. If you are nervous, buy a couple of "practice" sardines -- they are cheap. Once you learn this process, it will take you less than a minute to do each one.
NOTE: There will still be a few bones in the sardine, but they will be very thin and perfectly edible.
Assemble. Paint each sardine with olive oil and fill the cavity with some of the stuffing. Moisten each grape leaf (fresh or the brined, canned ones from the store are each OK) with olive oil and wrap the sardine in the leaf. The oil will help them stick.
If you cannot find grape or fig leaves, you can omit them or use cabbage leaves that have been soaked. If you don't use a leaf, you will need to sew the cavity shut or use a skewer to do so.
Grill the sardines over a hot fire for 5-6 minutes per side. Turn only once.
Serve with cold white wine. I'd try chenin blanc, pinot grigio, a Portuguese vinho verde, a Spanish Torrontes or my favorite with this dish, a Greek assyrtiko.