Sardines and pilchards are part of the herring fish family Clupeidae (the UK classifies sardines as being young pilchards). These are an inexpensive and sustainable oily fish often served fresh and fried, or preserved in salt, olive oil, escabeche, etc. Sardine comes from the Latin sardina and Ancient Greek sardínē or sardínos, of Sardò, Greek for Sardinia, which had an abundance of the fish. “Athenaios quotes a fragmentary passage from Aristotle mentioning the fish sardinos, referring to the sardine or pilchard.” Some doubts have been raised about Ancient Greeks sourcing fish from an island 800 miles away from Athens, but they definitely had fish factories just across the Mediterranean, in Empúries (Cataluña) from the 6th Century B.C., so I’m quite sure that sardines would have been preserved in jars with oil or salt for export, just like anchovies were back then.
Sardines are associated with festivals in Greece, Portugal and Spain. In Portugal grilled sardines are cooked on the street at the Feast of St. Anthony and in Spain there’s a Burial of the Sardine fiesta, on Ash Wednesday, to mark the end of Mardi Gras. A large brightly coloured paper maché sardine is marched in a funeral procession, which culminates in it’s burning on a funeral pyre. Originally, back in the 18th Century, King Carlos III ordered barrels full of sardines, as a feast for his loyal servants, before the onset of Lent. Unfortunately the weather was extremely hot and the fish arrived spoiled. The smell was so bad that the sardines were ordered to be buried. In the 19th Century some students in Madrid started an annual satirical sardina funeral procession, symbolising abstinence and fasting. In Barcelona, the fiesta ends on the beach, with a communal sardine barbecue (la sardinada).
Cataluña has a national dance called the Sardana – this is danced quite slowly , in a circle to music played by a cobla of 11 musicians, 4 of the instruments played are double-reed woodwinds, which make the music sound quite Medieval. The dancers typically wear flat espadrilles (tied at the ankle) – they dance in a circle holding hands, moving left and right, with arms and hands raised. The Sardana comes from the Empordà region in northern Catauña, named after and containing the Ancient Greek colony of Empúries. There are unproven theories relative to the origins of the Sardana, which link it to the Greeks. Visually, it does look like dancers on some Ancient Greek pottery. I was struck by how similar the Sardana is to the Turkish Horon, danced by the Laz people in celebration of fishermen catching anchovies (hamsi) – see here at 55.35 minutes. The Horon is nearly identical to old Greek dances, symbolises fishermen catching fish in nets and the movements (albeit faster) resemble those of the Sardana. Sadly, the word Sardana comes from cerdana, as in coming from Cerdanya and not Sardinia or sardines, but I have just come across La Sardana de la Sardina – The Sardana of the Sardine!
Sardinas con Verduras receta:
4 medium potatoes (sliced)
1 medium onion (sliced)
6 cloves of garlic (squashed and halved)
1 sweet pepper, any colour will do, (chopped)
1 small courgette (sliced)
1 medium tomato (sliced)
12 Kalamata olives
1/2 lemon thinly sliced
a splash of dry white wine or extra dry vermouth
a few torn basil leaves
a couple of sprigs of thyme
sea salt and cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
This is a simple Mediterranean method for cooking fish with vegetables. I often cook, bream, hake, mackerel and sea bass this way. Everything cooks in the same oven dish which can be scaled up for a dinner party, with all the prep done beforehand.
Preheat the oven to 200ºC, slice the potatoes and put them in an oven dish with about 1cm (1/4 inch) extra virgin olive oil. Coat the potato slices in oil and sprinkle on some salt, before putting them in the oven.
Allow the potatoes to poach in the oil for 20 minutes before adding the garlic cloves, olives and slices of onion. Put some olive oil on a plate to coat the onion slices beforehand.
After 10 minutes scatter a pre-oiled, chopped pepper on top – any colour sweet pepper will work – I had an orange one in the fridge.
10 minutes later spread half a sliced lemon, a sliced courgette and a sprinkle of thyme on top. A little more salt wouldn’t go amiss.
Again, 10 minutes later, arrange the sliced tomato with some torn basil leaves above the courgettes, with a little more salt and cracked black pepper.
…yet another 10 minutes later, it’s time for the final ingredient – the fish. Clean and oil the sardines first and splash them with a little dry white wine or extra dry vermouth. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook for about 10 – 12 minutes – perhaps one might pop it’s heads up to tell you that it’s ready! A larger fish will need about 20 minutes. It may seem like there’s a lot of olive oil in this dish, but in Mediterranean countries, olive oil is an ingredient and not just a cooking medium. Any leftover oil can be added to another dish as a flavouring or you can mop it up with some sourdough bread.