My favourite of all of Venice’s cicchetti is also among the most classic on offer at any bàcaro. 

Makes
12

Preparation

10min

Cooking

15min

Skill level

Mid
By
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Preparing food in saor, the technique of marinating fried food in vinegar and other ingredients, was a favourite Venetian way of conserving food for long trips (Venetian gastronome and actor Giuseppe Maffioli called it cibo dei marinai, sailor’s food) and it can be likened to Portuguese escabeche and Japanese nanbanzuke. Although sardines are Venice’s most popular ingredient to prepare in saor, you can also find it with scampi, sole, plump prawns (shrimp), freshwater fish such as carp and trout, chicken, or vegetables such as radicchio. 

 

Ingredients

  • 12 fresh sardines, cleaned, heads and backbones removed, butterflied
  • 1½ tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour, or enough for dusting
  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • 40 g (1½ oz/⅓ cup) raisins
  • 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) white wine, or water
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) white-wine vinegar
  • pinch of ground cloves (optional)
  • 1 tsp whole coriander seeds, crushed (optional)
  • pinch of sugar (optional)
  • 1½ tbsp pine nuts
  • fresh or toasted sliced baguette or grilled polenta, to serve

Cook's notes

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.

Instructions

Serves 4 as a light lunch, or makes 12 cicchetti.

Marinading time: at least 24 hours. 

  1. Dust the sardine fillets in the flour and shallow-fry in oil for 1 minute each side over a medium–high heat until golden and crisp. Season with salt and set aside on some kitchen paper to drain until needed.
  2. Soak the raisins in the white wine for 15 minutes to soften them. Meanwhile, cook the onion gently in a frying pan with the olive oil just until it is soft and transparent, about 10 minutes on a low heat, then add the vinegar, the wine from the raisins (set the raisins aside), some freshly ground pepper and the spices, if using. Let it simmer gently for about 10 minutes, then remove from the heat. Taste the mixture; if it is too sharp, stir in a pinch of sugar.
  3. In a small terrine or deep dish, place a layer of sardines, top them with some of the onions, some of the raisins and the pine nuts, and continue layering until the sardines are used up, then top with a layer of onions, raisins and pine nuts, and finish with the rest of the vinegar sauce poured over the top. Cover and allow to marinate for at least 24 hours in the fridge before serving. This keeps well in the fridge for up to 1 week.
  4. These are best eaten at room temperature, removing from the fridge an hour before you want to enjoy them. Serve the sardines on slices of toasted or fresh baguette, or grilled polenta.

 

This is an edited extract from Cinnamon & Salt by Emiko Davies (Hardie Grant Books, RRP $40). Available in stores nationally.