Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Sardines & I

Or, the things we do for love...

Food Network is simultaneously one of the best and the worst things in my life. The best things about it include introducing the masses to folks like Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain, along with some fun shows like Iron Chef. Some of the worst are anything with that Guy Fieri dude (OMG--the hair! the "dudeness!"...it boggles the mind) and of course, Semi-Ho-made Sandra Lee.

Now, I love, love, love Mario. Notwithstanding that he sort of looks like someone who I'd cross an ocean not to ever see again...but, still, I like him. I admire his passion for food, which was very evident during Molto Mario and the show where he ate his way across Italy (lucky bastard!), and he really introduced us to the joys of Italian food that weren't all meatballs and red sauce. (Note: am in no way knocking meatballs or red sauce!)

Once or twice, he's mentioned fresh sardines grilled with a little olive oil, and he made them look and sound like they would be the best things on earth...if you were only sitting in his studio kitchen.

Sunday afternoon, after gallivanting around ye olde Renaissance Festival, we swing by our old stomping grounds at the international farmer's market to pick up some fresh veggies, spices, cheese, and cured Italian meats.

We're looking at the fish cases, and The Man spies fresh sardines and gets a wild hair that he wants to try them. I start rueing the day Molto Mario ever hit the airwaves. Sure, Honey, I think...I want to try them too, but IN ITALY! And, prepared by someone else...that goes without saying, doesn't it?

He makes noises like he will assist me with "dealing with the fishies," but we all know who is going to "deal," don't we? (Yes, you did...you know you did, dear.)

And, did I mention that I really hated the days we cleaned fish in class? I'm sure I did.

So, I spent part of that evening researching how to cook the damnthings. Mario is no help. In both the books I have, Molto Mario and Simple Italian Food, he wants me to whack up a bunch of colored peppers and make a pepperonada to go with the silvery little demon fish. Like I'm wasting perfectly good peppers and onions on this experiment...ha!

I even consulted Mark "How to Cook Everything, even though I made you ruin a perfectly good pork roast" Bittman, and he fared no better than Mario.

So, as I type now, trying to recover from the trauma of actually severing their little fish heads and scooping out their little fish guts, I am torn. Torn between thinking that these damn things better be the best dish I've ever made, and if they really are that great, The Man will want them again. Oh, the agony.

(You know I have back-up dinner, don't you? Some nice grilled Italian sausages and my new favorite pasta. Someone's cuisine is gonna "reign supreme" here.)

At the best of times, I want to stay as far away from sardines as I possibly can. They really aren't for me, period. I'm working my way into anchovydom, because I like the depth that anchovy paste can give to certain dishes. I just cannot feel the love for sardines...can't do it.
(I'm reserving the right to rescind my dislike for sardines if I 1) find myself in Italy, dining at a seaside cafe; or 2) am sitting in front of Mario Batali, who is cooking for me...I would probably try damn near anything he put on a plate, a skewer, etc.)

The good news is that I managed to successfully skewer and grill the sardines, with only a few minor mishaps...one of them did not want to leave the grill intact. Nothing quite like the smell of burning sardine, let me tell you.

The even better news is that they were kinda so-so, and I'm thinking they won't be in my regular dinner rotation during this decade or the next. Whew!

But, I am (maybe) a wee bit saddened, since sardines are chock full of nutrients, protein, omega-3 fatty acid, and they were cheap! Like .99/pound cheap. But, cheap just can't cut the taste for me. Plus, I was really having a hard time cleaning the little buggers. I'm not usually grossed out by food preparation, but this was just plain yucky, with a capital "Y."

I shall make up for the indignities of this evening with tonight's dinner. The farmer's market carries Berkshire pork products, and we scored some lovely pork chops that looked good enough to eat straight from the meat case.

And, in a radical, radical departure for us, I am going to make Brussel sprouts as the side dish. When we were at Epcot in December, we had a meal somewhere that included the tiniest Brussel sprouts, which were so very good that we started to change our minds about sprouts...they were probably sauteed in bacon, which contributed to their tastiness, but whatever!

The farmer's market had some of these cute little beasties, so I picked out the tiniest ones and am gonna give it a whirl. I will admit that no matter what, I will probably like the sprouts waaaaay better than I like sardines...way better.


LinC said...

When I was growing up in Chicago, my father would go to Lake Michigan, strap on his waders, and catch buckets of these little fish called smelt. I can remember him standing over the laundry room sink gutting them (with Peanuts the cat twining around his feet). Mom would dip them in flour and fry them in a little bacon grease. I hated them because they were looking at me and they were full of bones. When we left Illinois for California in 1973, in the bottom of the chest freezer we found packages of frozen smelt from the 1950's.

Spain is where you want to go to eat little fish. They grill them, smoke them or fry them lightly in olive oil. (I like the fried version because they get crusty.) Very tasty, particularly with wine. They are a standard tapas dish. We ate them in Madrid and in Torremolinos on the Costa Del Sol.

We went to the Ren Faire in Franklin, TN, last Saturday. Perfect day -- the rain had cleared off by the time we got to the faire but it was still cool. The highlight was listening to a children's chorus play Renaissance music on recorders (little flute-y things). Not your normal Ren Faire entertainment.

J said...

Growing up in NW Indiana, we had smelt during lent!

Reading this post made me think of Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential because one of his bosses had a love for the small oily fishes of his Italian childhood.