This video starts at the end of a gravel road in Williamstown, a bayside suburb which still has a row of fishing shacks along an inlet. I went there to pick up fresh sardines from Phil McAdam, one of the last commercial fishermen on Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay.
Phil’s shack is a treasure, full of fishing bric-a-brac with a monumental bluestone fireplace and windows that look onto a lapping inlet where pelicans snap and flap their beaks, seagulls swoop and caw, and fishing boats creak in the eddies. It was overwhelmingly great, partly because I didn’t know this old-timey relic existed. It felt like stepping back in time. But it was also amazing because of all that big, broad horizon suddenly in front of my face while I was spending so much time inside, at home, and on tightly mandated supply runs.
Even though Phil’s world isn’t my normal, I loved the feeling of being in his normal – the beer can in the stubby holder, the TV volume permanently set to mutter, the damp and salty crates waiting for tomorrow’s fish. It was a welcome slot of ‘elsewhere’ with a bonus haul of sardines.
There was a sharp edge to this visit too… Phil has 100 weeks of fishing left here. The Victorian government plans to close Port Phillip Bay to commercial fishers like Phil, even though they fish sustainably. However, the recreational fishing lobby is large and organised. The fish-eating lobby… well, there isn’t one.
I value access to fresh, local, sustainable seafood. We all should. I’ll be agitating for access alongside GoodFish.
Sardines are tasty, healthy, abundant and cheap. They’re also an easy fish to start with if you’re not using to cleaning seafood. If I can do it, you can too! And they are so delicious, dressed Spanish-style with vinegar, currants, citrus and nuts. Of course, you can buy your sardines from a regular fishmonger, who will be happy to gut and butterfly them for you.
Even if you’re not keen on sardines, this dressing works on any seafood, meat or even avocado.
Time: 20 minutes
- 6 fresh sardines
- 20 ml (1 tbsp / 0.7 oz) olive oil, plus extra for cooking
- 60 ml (3 tbsp / 2 oz) water
- 60 ml (3 tbsp / 2 oz) sherry vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 heaped tbsp currants
- 2 tbsps herbs, chopped
- 2 tbsps walnuts
- orange zest
- salt and pepper, to taste
1. Clean sardines by using a sharp knife to cut through the back of the neck then fold to open the cut, removing the head and pulling the guts out with it. To butterfly the sardines, cut into the belly until you can feel the spine. Use your fingers to open the fish out and snap the spine near the tail. Slowly remove the spine, bringing all the ribs with it.
2. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and cook sardines, skin-side down until almost cooked through. Flip onto flesh side for a few seconds to finish cooking then remove to a serving plate.
3. Heat water, vinegar, garlic and currants in a small pan and let simmer for a few minutes. This can also be done in a Thermomix. Cook for 5 min/Varoma/speed 1.
4. Remove from heat (or transfer from Thermomix into a bowl) and season with salt, pepper and a little olive oil.
5. Scatter herbs, crushed walnuts and zest over sardines, then drizzle with vinegar and currant dressing. Grate orange zest over the top. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- Even if you’re not keen on sardines, this dressing works on any seafood, meat or even avocado.
- Use any herbs that you have around.
- You can serve this straight away or leave the flavours to infuse for a few hours.
- You can easily scale up this recipe to serve more.