As night falls, from day to day a young Moon grows and Šibenik's fish market get full of sardines! As everyone knows, it has become a legend of sardine fed generations of islanders and people living on the coast. And the sardine…the sardine is just an absolute fancied competitor, “the house specialty”, in all its modesty, with its tiny body is the attraction of every table and a dish to which everyone will point whilst looking at the menu of various snack bars, taverns, inns, smaller restaurants – the larger ones however, do not have it in their offer.
You can prepare your guests the most expensive white fish and put aside a plate of just fried sardines – there is no-one who will not reach for the tasty fried fish saying that there is always time for the white fish and that this tiny, tasty and crispy fish must not get cold!
Once upon a time, Mandalin sardines were considered in Šibenik as precious as today's lobster from Jabuka or the scorpion fish from the surroundings of the island of Žirje. They were a symbol of fishing and fish served at table! Mamilo was the legend of Mandalin fishing, whilst between the two wars, well known brothers Šlikter, Špirac and Štenac, were Mandalin fishermen and rebels. One of them took the Italian flag from its mast in Mandalin during Italian occupation.
Even today a few Mandalin fishermen as well as the term “Mandalin sardine” continue to remain – regardless of where it has been caught. That big tradition of catching small fish in a small sea is pretty tough!
And wherever the sardines have been caught – we will continue to call them “mandalin”. Let the tradition live even today when we are no longer used to visiting the fish market with its pots or boxes of this tiny, poor fish. Once it was handled more carefully: people paid attention not to break its backbone during transport to the kitchen, not to squeeze it and not to “cook” it in the sun…and then nylon bags were invented…
If you still cannot resist the sardine today, be careful and never wash it before frying! Just dry it (the best way is to put it on a cloth and then in the fridge), put a little flour in a paper bag then add a handful of sardines, shake it through your fingers or in a colander and then into the frying pan with hot oil. For those who like dishes eaten with a spoon, here is a recipe for sardine stew!
Braise an onion in olive oil; add a bit of tomato puree and whole sardines or sardines with their heads cut off (as you wish) and with their entrails removed. Then add white wine and cook on a slow flame for fifteen to twenty minutes. Add a drop of vinegar and a bit of sugar (or a spoon of honey!), then shake (never mix!) and cook for a further twenty minutes. The best way to cook sardine stew is as long as possible, on as slow a flame as possible.
The best side dish to serve with sardine stew is polenta prepared in the way of the hinterland people. This way is used in the town as well, although very rarely.
About that some next time.