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A favourite fish - first recipe

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster" Ferran Adria

I know I've done sardines before - a couple of times perhaps - but I have spent most of the day trying to begin on one of my resolutions that I haven't written down - anywhere - read more. I have been reading the book shown at left, which The Guardian, I have found considers to be "ingenious, yet strangely empty and overblown." Whilst I sort of see what they mean, and there are bits of it that are very airy fairy if you like, I really thought it was pretty good. It's very inspired by Herman Hesse's The Glass Bead Game, which I read many years ago and of which I think you could say the same. I remember very little of that book other than the grand philosophical air of it all. And this book has that a bit too, but at its heart it's a love story, a turn the page sort of mystery. It was a really good read - a page turner. The characters were interesting, as was the setting and the writing, I thought anyway, was really quite lyrical in parts. But let's say it was a very good sardine rather than a not that good lobster - even if The Guardian, I think, thought it should be a very good lobster, indeed was aiming to be a perfect lobster. A perfect good first book of the year. So to a first recipe and sardines.

There were no sardines in the book at all. The point about mentioning the book is that I couldn't put it down and lost myself in its fantastical world, so much so that I could think of nothing to write about for my blog. My head was running over what I had missed early in the book, what I had liked about it and trying not to feel too bad that The Guardian didn't like it. But I am determined to try and write a post at least once a day, so I have turned to my first recipe stimulus and the first volume in The Robert Carrier Cookery Course - a series of five volumes that takes you through basic processes until you can cook anything. Well that's his aim:

"The whole Cookery Course - book by book, lesson by lesson - if full of helpful hints and professional know-how. It is a step-by-step course in cookery which takes you progressively through all the culinary techniques that you need to become a really superb cook." Robert Carrier

I have all five volumes (they are small paperbacks) and they are indeed very useful. The major recipe that I use is that for the roast turkey we have at Christmas time which is in the extremely useful roasting chapter in this book. I have not worked my way through the course as if I was learning. I wonder if anyone does. Do they work their way through any of such things? I also have Delia Smith's three volume How to Cook and I haven't worked my way through that either. But I do dip into both from time to time. I seem to have bought this - or been given it - at Christmas 1977. Maybe I thought I was too good a cook to start at the beginning and work my way through.

Anyway here is Carrier looking incredibly dapper in a ridiculous tweed jacket, which I'm sure was never used when he actually cooked. It looks so cornily posed. Nevertheless it's a great book - a great series. He begins with Appetisers - Delia begins with eggs - which actually are Carrier's number two choice - then roasting, vegetable accompaniments and simple sweets. Nothing complicated in this book which he amply demonstrates by beginning with appetisers that you 'don't even have to cook.'

And here we encounter the sardines after briefly mentioning olives, radishes and canned anchovies. Olives - of course - and it's the same now - but radishes. Radishes have become very trendy these days but they are usually sliced. Carrier prefers the truly au naturel approach of simply serving with salt. However, when we come to the tinned sardines - next on the list - he offers two actual recipes for a Sardine pâté and a Sardine spread - more or less the same thing really. The pâté calls for mashing the sardines with butter, mustard, paprika, salt and pepper and lemon juice and then beating in a stiffly beaten egg white. To lighten it I guess. The spread has 2 hard-boiled eggs chopped (very 70s) instead of the egg white, and flavourings of chopped onion, mayonnaise, mustard, curry powder and lemon juice. As well as the obligatory salt and pepper of course. Simple but tasty but also just a bit dated.

So I found a modern version from Matt Preston - Sardines, parmesan & olive tapenade on pide. Modern because of the use of the word tapenade, not pâté, pide rather than just toast, plus Parmesan - shaved not grated I might add. The point is, I guess that a tin of sardines makes a very good starting point for devising some sort of paste, tapenade, spread, dip - call it what you will.

And it seems that tinned fish is in. It's all over the social media scene.

“Tinned fish is the ultimate 'hot girl food'. There is no food that will make you hotter than tinned fish. Straight up. Do you know a hot girl who doesn’t exist on protein? I don’t.” Caroline Goldfarb

Why? Here is one explanation:

"the tinned fish moment fits into a larger aspirational lifestyle “which falls somewhere between European tapas and a Jewish deli aesthetic.” This lifestyle is minimalist, simple, casual, and lends itself to “sensual” eating experiences, like sitting outside with wine and a baguette, " Sophia June - Nylon

It also fits the healthy fast food spot because it is indeed fast - and very healthy - all that Omega-3 and calcium. It's even sustainable, and you can easily tart it up with everything from those olives, to tahini and chilli. To prove it here is a Sardine salad with tahini dressing and also Chilli fried sardines. I tried to find one with miso, but could only find a soup with fresh sardines, on a quick look.

What else?

"Tinned sardines are also fantastic flaked into a potato salad, strewn on to an omelette, folded into hot pasta, crushed into a coarse pâté (with crème fraïche and lots of lemon) or mashed into a steaming jacket potato with a generous amount of butter and perhaps some capers and a little chopped parsley." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Plus pizza, quiche, fish cakes, gratins - mix with potatoes. Or you could try Jill Dupleix's

Sardine and tomato tart - I have and it was pretty nice - and seeing that picture, you can use them instead of anchovies for a milder taste, in all manner of things.

But actually there is nothing better than simple sardines on toast - straight from the can, with some of the oil, and slightly mashed. Maybe a squeeze of lemon, although I don't usually bother. It's the only fish that, for me anyway, gives me a real taste of the sea. A bite and I am instantly transported to some lovely Mediterranean spot where I am eating actual fresh sardines. And that's only with cheap supermarket sardines. One day I'm going to resist my thrifty soul and buy one of those really expensive cans of sardines - just to see if they really are that much better. Although it will be a future problem if they are!

By the way Carrier's last recipe in this book is a pretty simple chocolate mousse - tarted up with some Grand Marnier. You could do worse.


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