If you've made our Spicy Sardines on Toast recipe, then you'll know that I have strong feelings about sardines. These versatile little fish swam into my kitchen forever and ever when I was enamoured by the stunning visual array of sardine boxes and tins at my local Spar and Giovanni's Deli in Green Point.
Sardine tins are a bit of an art form in and of themselves. Go on, take a look next time you're at a deli. As an avid, if quiet, collector of pretty fish tins, my favourite designs come from Fishwife. I wish I had come up with that name first.
Anyway, enough about tinned fish. Here are the top takeaways: tinned sardines are cheap, accessible, and packed with protein as well as healthy levels of omega-3. So, we're going to put them to work today. This recipe is like if fish and chips were a pasta dish, but grown-up and exploding with briny, spicy, salty deliciousness.
The prettiest tins come from international brands but, for the sake of local budgets and sustainability concerns, this recipe makes use of good old Lucky Star sardines (which come in an iconic tin of their own!)
What you'll need from the shops:
Pasta (I used spaghetti)
One tin of sardines
Fresh chili (optional)
Panko bread crumbs
You may have noticed that the ingredients on this list are pretty strong. Most fish is delicate enough that it benefits from a sprinkle of salt and lemon juice, but sardines are pungent. I have found that the more you challenge this fish with strong flavours from lemon juice, sea salt, red-hot chilli, and briny capers, the more it sings.
How to make spicy sardine pasta
Step One: Prep your kak
Bring a generous pot of salted water to the boil on the stove. While that's going on, prep your greens. Chop up your leeks, chilli, and garlic. I like to use bird's eye chilies in this recipe because I like how seedy and spicy they are. If you're looking for something milder, I would recommend Serrano or jalapeño peppers.
Step Two: Fry your breadcrumbs
Depending on how comfortable you are with multi-tasking in the kitchen with hot oil, you can do this part while your pasta is still boiling. Personally, I set fire to my wooden chopping board, but I wouldn't say that was as much a consequence of multi-tasking as it was a consequence of my personal approach to cooking (chaotic).
Heat about a tablespoon of neutral cooking oil in a pan and put the pan on a low-medium heat. After giving it a minute or so to heat up, toss in your panko breadcrumbs and stir until they are golden brown. Once that's happened, set them aside.
Wondering about the addition of panko breadcrumbs to a pasta? Make our Caprese Pasta Recipe after this one and I'm confident that your scepticism will be quelled.
Voila: your pasta toppings are ready.
Step Three: Debone your sardines
Pasta check! That should be about done by now. Drain and set aside. Okay, back to deboning the sardines.
The international sardine brands are often more expensive because they are different sardine species and they tend to arrive already deboned. Lucky Star makes its consumers work harder, but the reward is worth it.
To debone the sardines, simply press the fillets gently so that they fall in two halves. Then, grab one end of the spine and pull away. It's best to try and get them in one go, otherwise, it will break up and become difficult to fish out of the chunks of meat.
Don't worry about the very fine little bones that are embedded in the meat - you won't choke on these or even feel them when you're eating. Once the bones have been dealt with, set the sardine meat aside.
Step Four: Cook it all up
Now, in the same pan that you just used to fry your breadcrumbs, toss in your garlic and leeks. Don't chuck your chillies in just yet, or you'll take the heat out of them and effectively teargas yourself and any other kitchen inhabitants. You can use a little of the oil that the sardines were packed in to cook the veg in the pan if you're feeling thrifty.
Once your leeks and garlic have softened and are smelling lovely and fragrant, toss in your sardine meat and your fresh chillies. The sardines don't need to be cooked, just warmed - so don't leave them in the pan for too long. You're just introducing them to everyone who's already been at the party for a while.
Step Five: Garnish and serve
Once your sardine and leek mixture is warmed all the way through, toss in your drained pasta and mix it up. Top with spoonfuls of capers, plenty of lemon juice, a heaping tablespoon of crunchy panko breadcrumbs, and a generous pinch of flaky salt.
There you have it. A highly nutritious, cost-effective meal in under an hour. The pile of oily dishes is sky-high, but we won't talk about that. Just eat your sardine pasta in peace like a true fishwife.
That was the last recipe ever to be conceptualised and photographed in the current Life & Style kitchen. We are moving on to bigger and better things, recipe-wise, so you can look forward to stunning visuals from the new kitchen. We can't wait to break it in!
All our love,
The Life & Style Team