Shiny silver sardines from Brittany are rather renowned in the Breton markets. Up against the strong tides of the Quiberon Peninsula, the fish have a firmer flesh compared to their southern-European cousins. As a means of preserving their abundant catches, the Quiberonnaise have a long-standing tradition of cooking these little fish and preserving them under a layer of salted butter. An industry grew out of this and you’ll find many small factories preserving the local product in dinky tins. This kind of preservation “en boite” tastes best when it’s had at least a couple of days for the flavours to develop. This recipe is quite the opposite: too long in the fridge and you’ll be left with sardine mush on your hands, making it perfect for those who are a little impatient.
- 150 ml cider vinegar
- 150 ml white wine vinegar
- 100 g sugar
- 2 tsp table salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 10 black peppercorns
- 2 juniper berries
- 20 fresh sardine fillets, deboned
- 1 small cucumber, sliced into thin rounds
- 1 small red onion, peeled and finely sliced
- 1 lemon, zested and cut into wedges
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.
Resting time 6 hours or overnight
Place all the ingredients apart from the sardines, cucumber, onion and lemon zest in a pot. Bring to the boil and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
When the brine has cooled to room temperature, pour it into shallow non-metallic dish. Add the sardine fillets (check for bones), cucumber, onion and lemon zest. Make sure everything is submerged in the liquid. Cover the dish in cling film (not foil) and leave in the fridge for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
Serve on buttered rye bread or the apple and caraway crackers with wedges of lemon.
Les petits conseils – tips
• Ask your fishmonger to fillet your sardines for you, as it is a fiddly process.
Photography by David Loftus
Recipe and image from My Little French Kitchen, Rachel Khoo (Michael Joseph, $39.99 hbk).