I like small fish. Little tiny ones: sardines and smelts and rainbow trout and lots of other varieties I don't know the name for. In Beirut one summer, a group of friends and I stopped in one of the large fish houses at the lower end of the Corniche. After ordering drinks, the waiter asked us what we would like, though no menus had been presented. After some confusion, we were lead to a large display of fish on ice, where we could pick what we wanted and how it would be prepared. Most of the fish were tiny, about ten different varieties of fish ranging from the size of your pinky to the length of a pencil. We ordered haphazardly and hoped for the best.
Everything that came out of the kitchen was excellent, particularly the little fish which had been battered and deep fried, but also the smokier grilled ones. Ever since then, if I see little fresh fish in a market (sadly rare in the States), I'm tempted to buy them.
Fresh sardines are in season now, and I couldn't resist picking some up. Sardines are also one of the few undebatedly sustainable fish left to eat (although I fear someone will dispute me in the comments). I grilled them with whole slices of lemon and a bath of garlicky olive oil.
Having been over-zealous, I faced a week of sardine sandwich eating for lunch. This is not a bad thing: a toasted bun layered with a few leaves of spinach, sardines, grilled whole lemon slices, and goat cheese is a pretty good thing. However, most of my colleagues eat Thai take-out for lunch, and I was sheepishly assembling my sardine sandwich for lunch when a colleague stopped me. He loved sardines he said, and was eager to know where to get fresh ones and how to cook them. Relieved, I explained the following recipe to him.
Grilled Lemony Sardines
1 lb fresh sardines, gutted and rinsed
2 large thin-skinned lemons, sliced as thinly as possible
3 tbl olive oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 pinch Aleppo pepper
sea salt, to taste
1. Preheat a grill, or preheat your oven to 475 F. If you're using a grill you'll want some sort of grill pan.
2. Combine oil, garlic, pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add the sardines and toss to coat.
3. Grease your grill pan or baking sheet. Scatter half the lemon slices on the pan. Spread the sardines over top- try not to crowd them so they cook evenly. Sprinkle with some more salt. Top with remaining lemon.
4. Grill the sardines for about 10 minutes, tossing everything around mid-way through, until sardines are done and lemons are soft. If using the oven it may take 12-15 minutes.