Dare I say these turned out even better than the Mario Batali dish that inspired them? The memorable dish of fried Portuguese or Spanish sardines that we enjoyed at Casa Mono in New York were a revelation at the time. I vowed to try and replicate the experience when I got back home. Only recently I realized tamban and associated relatives were also sardines, albeit of the tropical sort. So I was waiting for the right confluence of access to reef fresh tamban and a kitchen to immediately cook the catch. While recently followed the trail of some incredible tamban, I didn’t have access to a kitchen at the time. So when I found fresh tawilis at the market last Saturday, and had them in our home kitchen soon after, it was time to experiment…
Cleaning each individual sardine was a bit of a pain, but stay with me on this. With a very small sharp knife, make an incision along the length of the belly and remove the fish guts and other undesirables. Rinse under cool water and lay on some kitchen paper towels. Do this for the entire kilo worth of fish, it will take you a while, but just keep chanting….”fried sardines, fried sardines, fried sardines” and the time will pass quickly.
Next dry the cleaned sardines with paper towels, trying to remove as much moisture as possible to prevent serious oil splatters. Season the insides of the fish with some salt and cracked black pepper. Ready a pan with oil on medium high heat. Sprinkle the first batch of say 4-5 fish (don’t cook too many at the same time to prevent a sudden drop in oil temperature) with Wondra Flour and deep fry for just a few minutes until slight golden and crisp. Serve immediately with just a sprinkle of salt and a bit of fresh lemon juice. SUPERB. SUPERB. SUPERB!
They were crisp, light, flavorful and absolutely delicious. You could eat the entire fish, and bones were not an issue at all as they disintegrated as you chewed on the fish. The flesh of the fish fried up quite white and surprisingly delicate, and the whole mouthfeel, flavor and surprising lightness was a pleasure of the finest kind. How amazing that such a simple dish could turn out so exquisitely. And compared to the $12 or so tapas at Casa Mono, this serving of 5 fish couldn’t have cost more than say 50 cents! This is yet another recipe you MUST try if you have access to fresh tawilis which are in season right now. Check out the link to Wondra flour for more information. This recipe can be done with regular flour, but I am convinced the wondra made a difference in notching this dish up another level. This is a MUST TRY for folks who love fish. And yes, I DARE SAY this was even better than the version we enjoyed at a terrific lunch at Casa Mono last year. :)