Recipe: Sardine Tagra
From: Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes
Occasionally I’ve made things for this blog that seemed like a good idea at the time. And then afterwards, I’ve thought, “What on EARTH was I thinking??” See recent examples: hand pulled noodles, xiao long bao, ladybird cupcakes, to name just a few. I suspect this recipe will join those entries. Why? Well, tell me – have you ever butterflied sardines before?
The theme for this week’s Cookbook Challenge is seafood, and I knew that I wanted to make a recipe from Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes. I selected a recipe for sardine tagra and purchased the necessary twenty fresh sardines for it. When I started the recipe this morning, I reread the instructions and realised that I needed to clean, gut and butterfly the sardines. Doesn’t sound that hard, right? How long could it take to do twenty sardines? The answer to that question is – at least one and a half hours! Oh. My. God. After which I still had to put the rest of the dish together.
I must admit that initially I didn’t butterfly the sardines – massacre would be a better description. But the more I did, the easier it got, and it did get faster towards the end. Even so, it’s moments like these that makes me realise – I need a kitchen slave. I can’t even tell you why it took me so long. Perhaps it was the part where I had to remove the bones with tweezers. Sardines have a lot of little bones! I was probably being too much of a perfectionist in trying to remove as many as possible.
The name of the dish (tagra) takes its name from the terracotta baking dish that it is normally cooked in. There is a bottom layer of tomatoes and onion, a layer of potatoes, a layer of sardines sandwiched with charmoula, and then a final layer of overlapping tomato, lemon and green pepper slices.
I was rather apprehensive when it was time to eat as I was concerned that it would be horrible. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when the Boys pronounced it delicious. Hoorah! All that effort wasn’t for nought! The dish needed a rich fish like a sardine because of all the strong flavours in it – garlic, coriander, cumin, paprika, chilli, onions, and lemon. It was a bit spicy, a bit sour, a bit fishy, and overall very tasty.
I would make it again – but only after I’ve forgotten the pain of preparing the sardines. Or after I get myself that kitchen slave!
From: Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes
20 small sardines, butterflied (see below)
450g skinned, seeded and chopped tomatoes (I used two 400g cans of whole tomatoes and roughly chopped them)
1 large onion, very finely chopped
450g medium sized waxy potatoes
1 beef tomato, sliced
1 small lemon, thinly sliced
1 small green pepper, sliced (I left it out)
6 small dried red chillies
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice 1/2 lemon
A pinch dried oregano
For the charmoula
4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 & 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 large pinches dried oregano
3 tablespoons olive oil
To prepare the sardines, rub off the scales and rinse under cold water. Cut the head off each fish and discard. Then slit them open along the belly down to the tail. Pull out the guts and wash the cavities clean. Open up each fish and place them belly side down on a chopping board. Press down firmly on the backbone until the fish lies completely fiat. Turn it over and pull away the backbone, snipping it off with the tail. Pull out any bones left behind with fish tweezers.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Make the charmoula by putting all the ingredients into a mortar and pestle and pounding to a paste. Take the butterflied sardines and sandwich them together in pairs, with some of the charmoula in the middle. Set aside.
Tip the chopped tomatoes into a 26cm tagra or shallow baking dish and add the onion and any remaining charmoula. Mix together well. Cover with overlapping slices of potato and press them down well. Season with salt.
Arrange the sardine sandwiches on top of the potato, arranging them around the dish like the spokes of a wheel. Overlap the tomato and lemon slices on top of the sardines, and then follow with the slices of green pepper.
Place a dried red chilli in the centre of each pepper slice, and drizzle over the olive oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle with the dried oregano and more salt.
Bake the tagra for 1-1&1/2 hours or until the potato is tender. If it browns too much, cover with a sheet of foil. Serve straight away with fresh bread.