Sardines in Tortillas with Spicy Tomato Sauce

Rick Stein's take on this classic Mexican starter uses sardines instead of dogfish and features the contrasting texture of tortilla. As seen on his BBC series, The Road to Mexico.

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Introduction

Pan de cazon, literally translated as bread with dogfish, is a dish popular in Campeche on the Gulf of Mexico in Yucatán. I had it a few times and liked it but I was surprised to find that the dogfish tasted more like tinned sardines. One of the dilemmas writing books about a national cuisine is what to do about things we can’t get here easily. Dogfish is not common in the UK these days, although it used to be, and it’s generally considered to be a species that’s endangered here. So I tried making this with a couple of tins of sardines and it was really lovely – a combination of the fish in a slightly spicy tomato sauce in a sandwich of crisp tortillas topped with avocados. I can’t say too often how much I love the way the Mexicans combine something crisp with a sauce, so you get a satisfying textural complexity. The salad panzanella, with tomatoes and dry bread, works in the same way.

Serves 4 as a starter

Ingredients

250g sardines in olive oil, drained
250ml corn oil, for frying
12 x 10cm corn tortillas
200g refried beans, warmed
1 avocado, stoned, peeled and sliced
For the tomato sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp dried epazote (optional) or oregano
½-1 habanero chilli, stem and seeds removed, roughly chopped
600ml passata (sieved tomatoes)
12 turns black peppermill
salt, to taste

Essential kit

You will need: a blender or food processor.

Instructions

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a saucepan and sweat the onion, garlic, epazote or oregano and chilli until very soft. Add the passata and cook for 15–20 minutes. Liquidise the sauce in a blender or food processor and season with pepper and salt to taste.

Reserve one-third of the tomato sauce for finishing the dish, then put the rest back in the pan and add the sardines. Cook for about 15 minutes until the fish has broken up and combined with the tomato sauce – the sauce should be quite thick and most of the liquid evaporated.

Heat the corn oil in a frying pan and fry the tortillas for 1–2 minutes until crisp. Drain them on kitchen paper. Spread 8 of the tortillas with refried beans. Place one on each of 4 plates and spoon on some of the sardine ‘stew’. Top with a second bean-covered tortilla, bean-side up, then add a bit more of the sardine stew. Finish with a third tortilla, then divide the reserved tomato sauce between the tortilla stacks and garnish with a few slices of avocado. Serve at once.

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