Spice-rubbed Sardines with Persian rice, pomegranate and crispy shallots
- 12-16 sardines
- 1tsp black peppercorns, freshly ground
- 1tsp ground cinnamon
- 1⁄2tsp ground nutmeg
- 1tsp coriander seeds, freshly ground
- 1⁄2tsp fennel seeds, freshly ground
- 11⁄2tsp sea salt
- 2tbsp fine flour (00)
- 11⁄2tbsp olive oil
For the crispy shallots
- 75ml sunflower oil
- 5 banana shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
For the Persian rice
- 250g basmati rice
- big pinch saffron
- pinch caster sugar
- 1tbsp sea salt
- juice of 1⁄2 lemon
- 3tbsp olive oil
- 1 small egg
- 2tsp natural yoghurt
- pomegranate seeds
- 1 bunch coriander, leaves removed
- 1tbsp natural yoghurt
To Prepare Sardines:
In cold water, rub off any stray scales from the fish (they tend to shed scales when they are caught so there shouldn’t be many left). Using a pair of scissors, cut off the head and all the fins (except the tail) and snip open the belly as far as possible to the tail end. Clean out the guts with kitchen paper, rinse the fish then pat dry. Sit the fish on a board with the belly downwards and press firmly along the backbone with the heel of your thumb from the opposite end to the tail. Keep pressing until you feel the bone loosening. Turn the fish over and you will see all the side bones have also come away with the backbone. Gently ease it out towards the tail end without breaking the bone or the flesh. When you reach the tail, snip it out with scissors, leaving the tail in place. Neaten the belly up with the scissors and place on a plate until ready to cook.
Mix all the spice ingredients together with 1 teaspoon of salt and sprinkle some over the flesh of the fish. Put the flour and the rest of the spice mix on a plate, fold the flat sardines back into a fish shape and dust the skin with the flour. Leave in a cool place.
Heat the oil in a wok over a medium heat and add the sliced shallots. Stir carefully until they turn a golden colour. Turn off the heat and place shallots on a plate lined
with kitchen paper. Leave to cool.
Put the rice in a sieve and rinse briefly under cold water. Leave in the sieve and sink into a bowl of cold water with half the salt and soak for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, put the saffron and sugar in a pestle and mortar and grind to a powder. Add 2 tablespoons of boiling water and set aside.
Bring 1 litre of water to the boil with the rest of the salt. Once boiling, drain the rice and pour into the saucepan along with the lemon juice and bring back to the boil.
Cook for 21⁄2-3 minutes, until the grains are parboiled. Drain through a sieve, rinse with warm water and drain again.
To ensure the rice has a crispy bottom (known as tahdeeg), crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk with the yoghurt and half the saffron water. Add 8 tablespoons of the parboiled rice.
In a clean saucepan, warm the oil over a medium-high heat and add the egg and rice mixture. Swirl around the pan to coat and pour in the remaining rice. Poke 4 holes into the rice with a wooden spoon handle and spoon over the rest of the saffron water.
Place 4 sheets of kitchen paper under the lid and put it back on the saucepan. Lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes or until the rice is cooked.
With the lid on, put the base of the pan into a basin of cold water for 2 minutes so the swift cooling will loosen the crispy rice.
When the rice is ready, heat the oil in a frying pan and add one fish at a time, holding them down for a few seconds so they don’t open. Cook for 2 minutes on each side. Serve hot with the rice and some of the crispy base. Scatter with the crispy shallots, pomegranate seeds, coriander leaves and a little natural yoghurt.