There's something special about the rich oiliness of sardines. Get whole sardines if you can - they're amazing - but butterflied fillets will suffice for this dish. Fennel and orange are classic accompaniments for good reason - they cut through and balance the sardines' flavour. For something truly special, try cooking the sardines over coals - sardines love smoke.
- 50 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 baby fennel bulbs, fronds reserved
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- Zested rind of 1 orange
- 1 tbsp orange juice
- 1 tbsp Pernod
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 12 whole sardines
- For brushing: olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1Heat olive oil in a large frying pan, add onion and garlic and sauté over low heat until onion is very tender (7-8 minutes).
- 2Finely dice 1 fennel bulb, add to pan with fennel seeds and sauté until fennel begins to soften (3-4 minutes). Add orange zest and juice, Pernod and vinegar, increase heat to high and reduce until syrupy (1 minute). Season to taste and set aside.
- 3Preheat a char-grill pan over high heat. Brush sardines with oil and season, add to char-grill and cook, turning once until just cooked (2-3 minutes each side). Spoon fennel and orange onto serving plate, top with grilled sardines. Using a mandolin, thinly shave remaining fennel and toss with a few reserved fennel fronds and the lemon juice, then scatter over sardines and serve immediately.