Sometimes it’s the surroundings and the people you meet who make the pleasure of eating fish really memorable.
So, let’s go back to the 1980s.
It was a warm evening in late summer on a beach in Lisbon, the picturesque capital of Portugal – a country probably best known for its sea-faring explorers and football (soccer) players.
You might wonder why we’d head for a beach for a memorable meal, not one of the famous restaurants. But we’d had a tip from an old Portuguese identity, Santiago, who had been fishing for 60-odd years. He said the best sardines were eaten chargrilled on a stick on the beach with a bottle of red wine. And who were we to argue with an expert? (He also said only eat sardines fresh in a month with no “R” in it.)
We found a small, slightly worse-for-wear, wooden, fisherman’s shack on the beach. Nobody was around, the sun was beginning to set. There was a fire burning in a metal cauldron laid on the sand outside his hut. His sign on the wall of the hut said : “SARDINHAS with love and wine”. We ordered 6 and he brought out the large black Atlantic sardines stuck on skewers and then grilled them over the fire.
Two metal plates arrived with the sardines placed of top of pieces of corn bread (broa). The fisherman said a perfectly grilled sardine should have roughly toasted and caramelised skin, with the mix of sweet, smoky and salty, then flaky white flesh which is lovely and moist.
The sauces from the sardine on the corn bread made it one of the best meals ever.
We watched the sun set and headed back to Lisbon and our hotel.
Not fine dining. But I remember the smell and taste of the chargrilled sardines as if it was yesterday.
Old school sardines:
You can get frozen sardines in New Zealand. But I still have a weakness for the sardines – out of a tin – the kind I grew up with.
We sometimes have family debates over whether white or black pepper is better as a seasoning, combined with salt. And, if the sardines should be put under the grill, and/or combined with red chilli, hummus, lemon juice, garlic and parsley and then served on toasted white bread, corn bread, or sough dough.
Up to you. I reckon, you can’t beat the basics.
ROCKBOAT MARINE Galley-Hand
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