During the Lenten season, Sicilian dining traditions arise here and there around New Orleans. They celebrate St. Joseph’s Day, March 19. People with Italian heritage bring forth many dishes seen only at this time of year. Among them are two that involve species of fish only seen this time of year.

Grilled sardines

Grilled sardines

#21: Fresh Sardines

The best of all the St. Joseph dishes is pasta cu li sarde. It’s made with sardines, but not the canned kind you’re thinking about. These are fresh fish four to six inches long, grilled, broiled or baked whole. The bones are so small that they present little danger. Most Italian people eat them head and all. Two or three fish makes a delightful lunch. The flavors are assertive without being oily. Unfortunately, not many restaurants serve these wonderful little fish, mainly because they’re hard to find in the markets. Chefs who are really into the sardines order them well in advance. And it’s not unusual for those chefs to feature the sardines before and after St. Joseph’s day.

Unacceptable Alternative

Throughout Europe you will find salted, dried codfish, cooked by the best chefs on the continents, from Spain to Scandinavia. It’s an ancient way to preserve fish long-term. To cook them, you lock them into a vise, hacksaw off strips of the fish, soak it for hours in warm water, then hope people will be so accustomed to this hard fish that they don’t question its goodness. Some cooks make it into codfish cakes or balls, with equal dreariness. Given the freshness imperative of modern chefs, this is curious. Given that cod is in short supply now, it’s a good out for those who have met bacala the Italian name for the dish.

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