Some people hate sardines…but not me. The humble sardine has a strong flavour and aroma that some consider off-putting but I love it for these qualities. In Western Australia, the sardines caught off the waters of Fremantle are well-known for being some of the best. A sardine festival is even held there annually which attracts many thousands of people.
Today, a group of us caught a ferry from Perth to Fremantle along the Swan River. It was a relaxing trip, passing million dollar homes of the wealthy along the way. After docking we made our way to the marina and had lunch at Cicerello’s, a seafood restaurant that was established way back in 1903. Among other fish, we had the famous sardines which were simply grilled. They were absolutely delicious, so fresh and smelling of the sea.
This brings me to an issue which really interests me – regionality in food production and cooking. For me, one of the quintessential countries which demonstrates this is Italy, where I spent a year in 2003/2004. Of course, you could say the same for France, Spain or maybe where you live. Regional produce and cooking in these countries have developed from the confluence of elements such as climate, geography, culture and politics. Just think of the famous parmesan and prosciutto from Parma, or balsamic vinegar from Modena, and perhaps less well-known, the buffalo mozzarella from Naples and pistachio from Bronte in Sicily.
In Australia, I’ve begun to notice that regionality in produce is developing slowly, but surely. For example, the Barossa Valley, Kangaroo Island and Mt Barker are well-known for producing top quality chickens, Coffin Bay for oysters and the Yarra Valley for salmon. For me, regionality is about celebrating culinary traditions and diversity of produce amidst the uniformity of mass produced and uniform food found in most of our supermarkets. Regionality is also about where our food comes from and a sense of place, that certain produce come from particular areas because of various influences which allow them to grow well there. In terms of regional styles of cooking however, we’re not anywhere near the level found in countries like Italy and France. But maybe given time, something may develop…
A few days prior to our trip to Fremantle, I found some sardines in the freezer as I looked around the kitchen for ingredients to use for dinner one night. I collected these items:
- frozen Fremantle sardines
- fresh snow peas
- frozen homemade pesto of coriander and cashew
- potatoes that were starting to shoot
Yes I know, not very glamourous sounding ingredients! But you can turn even the most basic things into a decent meal. This is what I made:
Crumbed Fremantle sardines with warm salad of potatoes, snow peas and coriander and cashew pesto
I started by putting on the potatoes in some water and bringing to the boil. I then crumbed the sardines by coating the fillets in flour, then dipping them in an eggwash and finally coating in breadcrumbs. When the potatoes were about done, I threw in the snow peas and took them out along with the potatoes after around 2 minutes. I like the peas crunchy. While still warm, I added some of the pesto and a bit of extra virgin olive oil to the potatoes and peas and seasoned with salt and pepper. I then fried the sardines until golden brown in some grapeseed oil. To plate up, some of the warm salad followed by the sardines on top. A simple but tasty meal! And everytime I eat Fremantle sardines, I can say I’ve been to the area where they came from and even ate them there.