Grilled pilchards with romesco sauce
( SERVES 4 )
It amazes me that we largely regard pilchards as good for fishing bait or cat food; in so many other cultures, especially in Europe, these fish are a celebrated ingredient. We are fortunate to have these plump and tasty fish, which are available from fish retailers. This small brilliantly coloured relative of the sardine is common around the coast, and even gets the green tick of sustainable seafood we can eat without feeling guilty.
The small bones are part and parcel of eating them, as they soften when cooked, making them edible. Their dark, mysterious and oil-rich flavour sits well with the sweetness of roasted capsicums blended into a Mediterranean-type sauce, thickened with almonds and sharpened with a splash of red wine vinegar. It's an ideal autumn salad that could be served as a light lunch or easy first course.
- Remove the fish scales using the back of a knife, then slit along the belly and scrape out the innards. Rinse under cold running water, pat dry and place on a chopping board. Trim and square off the ends of the fish. Sprinkle the skin with a little sea salt, then set aside for 30 minutes.
- Heat a frying pan over a high heat, brush the fish with olive oil and quickly fry skin-side down for 2 minutes or until the skin is crisp. Remove from the pan and place on a warm plate.
- For the sauce, preheat the grill. Place the capsicums in a roasting dish and grill until the skin blackens. Remove from the heat and wrap them in newspaper. Leave for 30 minutes, then peel off the skins and remove the seeds. Set aside.
- Gently toast the almonds under the grill until light golden. Blend the capsicums, almonds, vinegar and oil in a food processor until smooth. Check for salt and pepper.
- Trim the spring onions and then cut into fine shreds. Pour the sauce over the fish and sprinkle with spring onion.