As the weather warms up in the northeast, we begin to itch with a desire to do outdoorsy activities. Grilling is one of them! But I’ll admit that a whole lot of what seems ideal in my mind has trouble coming together in practice when the day flies by and I’m too exhausted to go fuss over coals. All I want is a glass of wine and a meal that’s easy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want interesting flavors and hints of summer in my tasting notes! And when it comes to warm weather, nothing is more fitting for a Portuguese than barbecued sardines.
Sardinhadas (sardine barbecues) are a staple of spring and summer in Portugal, especially in June during the saints feasts. Typically, the juicy, sweet and salty sardines are charred to perfection and served atop a slice of cornmeal bread (broa). The meal also includes a side salad of lettuce, tomatoes, charred bell peppers, onions and sometimes boiled potatoes. With these flavors in mind, I like to create “saints feast sardine salads” using Portuguese canned sardines, ideal for easy weekday meals.
Leave the messy coals for the weekend when you have a little more time on your hands. I get my canned sardines at the Portuguese supermarket Seabra, but you can also get them at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. I especially like “Petingas,” which are bite-size sardines, about the size of a small thumb.
I char up a bell pepper, either in the broiler or on a cast iron pan, mince onion and toss with lettuce and vinaigrette. I top the salad with the sardines. You can also boil potatoes, skin on baby Yukons are terrific for this dish. The bonus, sardines are rich in heart healthy omegas. Canned sardines are even more so, since the nutrient-filled bones become eatable during the canning process. Who needs to mess with coals when you’ve got cans!