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Curing is an easy way to prepare fresh Pacific sardines. In this recipe, chef Gayle Pirie of Foreign Cinema guides you through the cleaning, but if you’re feeling squeamish, ask the guy behind the fish counter (Whole Foods has been getting in a good stock of sardines from Monterey lately) to do it for you. Use the cured fish to top crostini, toss in salads, or lay on bagels with cream cheese. These sardines are particularly lovely topped with a mixture of grated hard-cooked egg, capers, and a squeeze of lemon too.
Makes 4-6 servings
12 Pacific sardines
1/2 cup sea salt
1. Use a sharp knife to cut off the heads just past the gills. Cut a slit down the bellies almost to the tail. Open the body, and sweep out the insides with a finger. Rinse the fish clean, and pat them dry.
2. Lay the fish on a baking pan. Sprinkle them with about half of the salt, turn them over, and sprinkle with the remaining salt. Cover the pan with two or three layers of plastic wrap, and refrigerate for two days.
3. Uncover the pan, and rinse off the sardines under cool, running water.
4. Open up a sardine and remove the spine. The other bones should lift right out with the spine. Use your fingers to work the two filets (one for each side of the fish) away from the skin. Some bits of skin may remain on the fish, but they are perfectly edible. Repeat for the remaining fish.
5. Give the sardines a taste. If they’re quite salty, soak them in cool water for about an hour to leach out some of the salt. Or let them sit covered in olive oil for a few days—they’ll become even more silky and mild.