This is a deceptively simple dish yet is elegant and has many layers of flavour. The oily sardines match perfectly with the vinegary flavours and crunch of the cucumber.
- 1 medium telegraph cucumber
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp river salt flakes
- 2 medium eschalots, thinly sliced into rounds
- 60 ml (¼ cup) red wine vinegar
- 200 g crème fraîche or mascarpone
- 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
- 1 lemon, rind finely zested
- 70 ml mild extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp caraway seeds, toasted and roughly crushed
- 8 butterflied sardines
- 2 tbsp dill fronds
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Cut the tips off your cucumber and then cut it in half down the middle. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Using a mandolin or sharp knife, slice the cucumber into 5 mm half moons.
Transfer the sliced cucumber into a mixing bowl and add in the sugar and salt. Use your hands to give it a good mix, making sure it’s all well combined. Set aside for at least 20 minutes and up to an hour.
Give your eschalot slices a good rinse under cold water, then place in a mixing bowl with a sprinkle of salt and mix well. Let it sit for 10 minutes and then squeeze any excess liquid that’s come out. Place them into a clean bowl with the red vinegar. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
While your ingredients are sitting around in salt, combine your crème fraîche or mascarpone with your mustard and lemon zest - it will become quite runny. Set aside in the fridge.
By this stage your cucumber should be ready. Squeeze out any liquid that it has shed and place into a mixing bowl. Add in the olive oil, the eschalot and vinegar mixture and the caraway. Give it a little mix.
Place a heavy-based frying pan on a high heat, allow it to warm a little and then splash in a generous amount of oil. Season the sardines and place them skin-side down in the pan until you can see they are almost cooked through. This will only take a brief minute. Flip them for a second before removing them from the pan onto some paper towel to rest.
Now it’s time to construct your plates. Take the mascarpone or crème fraîche mix and spoon it like a sauce onto the middle of the plate (either on one shared platter or on individual plates). On top of this lay your sardines, skin-side up, along the sauce in a row - you don’t want the sardines covering the sauce completely. Take a spoon of the cucumber mix and place it in a neat pile along the line of the sardines, again making sure not to cover them completely. Spoon any extra oily juice over the top. Finish the dish with the dill sprinkled alluringly over the top. Serve immediately.
• This dish would also be delicious with another oily fish such as slimy blue mackerel.
Photography by Sharyn Cairns. Styling by Lee Blaylock. Food preparation by Tiffany Page.
Always on the hunt for the next vegetable to pickle, follow O Tama Carey on Instagram.
This recipe is part of The seasonal cook: Cucumber column.
View previous The seasonal cook columns and recipes.