I came to this dish very late, which is a surprise since it is one of the classic dishes of Venetian cuisine, and a pity since I have been missing it all my life. From just before my teenage years until adulthood, I wouldn’t touch fish on principle since I knew I didn’t like it, despite evidence to the contrary. For example, I remember at the age of about ten being fed what my parents told me was prosciutto di parma. It was delicious, but turned out to be smoked salmon.
A few months ago, I was in Venice researching an article on Venetian cichéti and I knew I couldn’t write about this dish without trying it. I ordered it and with trepidation, bearing in mind I had never eaten a sardine, I took my first mouthful.
Like the poor sardines before me, I was hooked.
The dish, which is often served as a Venetian small plate (cichéto) is remarkably easy to prepare and will sit in the fridge for a few days—indeed it’s better when it has—so you can eat it as a quick lunch with a salad, or as a tasty, quick evening meal. In Venice it’s often an antipasto, or appetizer served, of course, with prosecco. It is quintessentially Venetian, young sardines being found in the Venetian lagoon and the sultanas and pine nuts adding a slightly middle-eastern quality befitting Venice’s position at the end of the silk road.
If, unlike me, your dislike of sardines is reality and not fantasy, this dish can be made with king prawns, or indeed pieces of white fish fillet. Ranieri da Mosto (father of the more familiar Francesco) in his book Il Veneto in cucina, says that the dish used to be made with sardines, flounder, or sole depending on how rich you were, but that today it’s usually only made with sardines, the poorest version. Perhaps this is indicative of Venice’s reduced status since the end of the Serenissima Repubblica.
Is there anything that you wouldn’t eat as a child which you now love? Let me know in the comments.
Sarde in saor
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 mins
Resting time: 24 hours
600g (1 1/2 pounds) sardines, filleted
plain flour for dusting
250ml (1 cup) olive oil
4 white onions, sliced
125ml (1/2 cup) white wine vinegar
100g (3 ounces) sultanas
100g (3 ounces) pine nuts
- Dust the sardines in flour and then shallow fry for a few minutes in the olive oil.
- Fish the sardines out of the oil, salt them and set to one side.
- Add the onions to the oil and cook gently until they are translucent, being careful not to brown them.
- Add the white wine vinegar and continue to cook for about ten minutes.
- Take a container with a lid and place a layer of sardines in the bottom.
- Now place a layer of onions on the top.
- Sprinkle with sultanas and pine nuts. Continue until you run out of ingredients.
- Pour the oil and vinegar mixture into the container.
- When the contents have cooled, place the lid on the container and put in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
- Serve cold.
Da Mosto, Ranieri (2008) Il Veneto in cucina. Treviso: Canova.