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Betsy Block

Make Mama Look Good

Blame it on the Chef

Blame it on the Chef
When I got a luscious-looking recipe for grilled sardines with pomegranate dressing from Salt Yard, I knew it would be a huge hit - not with the picky eater in the house, my husband BD, but rather with 10-year-old E, who loves grilled fresh sardines. A chef had sent over a small plate of them once when we were eating at his restaurant; since then, E's been hooked. This is the kind of thing that happens when you have food freaks for parents.

Unfortunately, sardines aren't always easy to find around here, but once E had heard me mention this recipe, we had to make it happen. It took quite a few phone calls to fishmongers all over the greater Boston area, but finally BD was able to locate a store that had some - a store on the other side of town, that is. As E watched with intense interest, BD quizzed the person at the market about their sardine supply. Meanwhile, I was frantically waving my hands at him and silently mouthing,  "Pomegranates! Pomegranates!"

"Sorry," he said when he got off the phone, "I couldn't hear you." Naturally when he got to the store he found out that pomegranates were out of season, but once we'd located the sardines, the show had to go on anyway.

Salt Yard is in London; when I first scanned this recipe, my heart did a little flip-flop because (duh): metrics. I'm ashamed to admit that I am completely unfamiliar with metric measurements. Instead of spending my thirties becoming the trilingual, metrically fluent sophisticate I always fancied I'd be, I wound up becoming an expert in diapers, healthy lunches and natural consequences. I've put "learn metrics" on my to-do list, though, and I'll start by buying another set of measuring cups as soon as possible even though they'll probably have to be the weird angled ones from Oxo. (Having our own measurements that basically no one else uses is just so American.) In the meantime, I calculated the equivalents as best I could, which, since there were also intercontinental weight and volume issues involved, severely taxed both my addled, math-fearing brain and BD's patience.

Even without exact measurements, though, this recipe turned out wonderfully. And in lieu of the missing pomegranate seeds, I sauted up some apricots that BD had brought home. I'd have to call this dish an unmitigated success. Almost everyone raved, including two very hip 10-year-olds. As for the four-year-olds, they had good company in one lovable but finicky 45-year-old. Then again, at least he did the shopping.

Chargrilled Sardines with Pomegranate Dressing
By Brian Villahermosa, Salt Yard in London

For two tapas-size portions:

4 medium sardines (scaled and gutted, hopefully by someone else)
extra virgin olive oil
1 pomegranate
100 ml. pomegranate juice (or a little less than  cup)
100 g. baby spinach or rocket (that's arugula - enough of either to make a nice little salad   base)
1 lemon
500 ml. red wine (little more than 2 cups)
100 g. sugar (between 1/3 and  cup)
50 ml. balsamic vinegar (little less than  cup)

Cut the pomegranate in half over a sieve, collecting the juice in a bowl underneath. Smack out the seeds with a wooden spoon whilst (he said "whilst"! Love that!) squeezing - this should release the seeds into the sieve and more juice into the bowl. Pick out the inner bits from the pomegranate to leave you with just the seeds and juice. Put the seeds to one side.

Put the juice, wine and sugar in a small saucepan and reduce over medium heat by two-thirds. Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce until it is of pouring cream consistency. Keep warm.

Rub the sardines with extra virgin olive oil and lemon zest. Season and chargrill them on a barbecue or a griddle pan until done (two to three minutes on each side).

Dress the baby spinach or arugula/rocket with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice and season.

To assemble, place the baby spinach/rocket/arugula on two plates. Place two sardines per plate on top. Add the pomegranate seeds to the warm dressing and drizzle over the sardines.