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Grilled whole over the fire until lightly charred these sardines are topped with a fresh and zesty tomato dressing to finish.

Introduction

I cook these – always super-fresh, whole and ungutted – with a simple dressing poured as soon as they hit the grill. This is cooking fish over fire at its simplest but if you are a little squeamish about the ungutted nature of these, you can obviously either gut them yourself or ask your fishmonger to do it for you. Sardines have a thin skin and can be prone to sticking a little. As usual, follow the tips on page 26 of Scorched to minimize this problem but don’t worry about it too much. Little sticky, slightly burnt bits kind of add to this experience. By the way, don’t even think about eating these with a knife and fork – that’s way too fiddly and unsatisfying. Just pick them up with your fingers and nibble round the frame like a cartoon cat, saving the fork only to scoop on bits of tomato and dressing.

Note: if you have neither a fish cage nor grill tray you can thread onto skewers and cook kebab-style, see the Fish on a Stick chapter (page 112 of Scorched) for visual inspiration.

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Ingredients

1kg (2lb 4oz) whole sardines
a drizzle of olive oil
2 tbsp flaked sea salt
For the dressing:
3 large ripe vine tomatoes
100ml (3½fl oz/scant ½ cup) extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zest and juice
a loose handful (about 15g/¾oz) flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

When you get the sardines home, take them out of their packaging and line up on a rack hung over a tray. Slide into the fridge and leave to dry the skin for up to 12 hours.

When you are ready to cook, get your dressing ready before you even think about grilling the fish, as you want to tuck in to eat these as soon as they come off the barbecue.

Use a sharp knife to score round the middle of each tomato and transfer to a heatproof bowl. Boil a kettle of water, then pour it over the tomatoes and leave for a minute. Drain the water away and, once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel away and discard the skin. Finely dice the flesh and scoop into a bowl. Pour over the extra virgin olive oil, add the lemon zest and juice, parsley and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Use a fork to whisk together until combined. Set aside at room temperature.

When you are ready to cook, fire up your grill for direct hot cooking, allowing the coals to cook down to embers (page 31 of Scorched) and set a grill tray or fish cage over the fire the get hot. Once hot, drizzle a little oil all over the sardines and sprinkle generously with the salt. Transfer to the hot grill tray or fish cage and set back over the direct heat. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side until lightly charred all over.

Transfer to a serving plate, using a fish slice to scrape over any little stuck bits on top of the fish (too good to waste!). Pour over the dressing and tuck right in.

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