In My Lisbon, Nuno Mendes shares classic Portuguese recipes.
When I tried to cook this sardine dish recently, the first thing I did was put the prepared fish next to the grill—which happened to be on a roof terrace in downtown Lisbon— before turning my back for a minute. Big mistake. I must warn you: don’t leave your sparkling-fresh sardines outside unattended, for the seagulls will get them. The thought of those greedy birds flying away with my beautiful fish still makes me laugh.
Sardines are always cooked whole in Lisbon, but because of a rather unfortunate childhood encounter with a fish bone I prefer to remove the bones, which is a kind of sacrilege, but what can I say? Here, the sardine bellies are stuffed with lemon zest and bay leaves, and are delicious alongside grilled green peppers and a slice of toasted sourdough to soak up the juices.
- Put the onion in a small bowl with a pinch of sea salt, add water to cover, and leave to soak for a few minutes. (This will break the onion down a little so that the flavor is not as strong.)
- Mix together the cilantro and parsley leaves and lemon zest with a generous pinch of salt and white pepper. Stir in the extra- virgin olive oil until you have a paste.
- Preheat the broiler to high, then broil the peppers until the skin is blackened all over, turning them a couple of times. Transfer to a container and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Once cooled, peel, seed, and thinly slice the peppers. Drain the onions and mix them with the peppers, white wine vinegar, and a few tablespoons of the herb paste. Leave to marinate until you are ready to serve.
- Gently open the sardines and stuff them with the bay leaves, lemon and lime zest, and chopped cilantro stalks, and season well with salt and pepper. Brush the skin with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until crisp on the outside and cooked through. Spoon some of the herb paste onto the toasted bread and top with a sardine, then add more paste. Serve the peppers on the side.
Reprinted with permission from My Lisbon copyright (c) 2018 by Nuno Mendes. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.