A Challenge For A Top Chef: Make Sardines Tasty
Sometimes, shopping at the seafood counter can be a swim in uncharted waters. Recommendations seem to change on a daily basis; salmon, tuna, cod, shrimp are safe one day -- and toxic the next.
But the humble canned sardine is always there, nutritious, safe and sustainable. So we challenged Top Chef Carla Hall to do the (almost) impossible and make sardines tasty, too.
It was a real challenge: Hall doesn't like sardines. At all. In fact, she tells NPR's Guy Raz she hasn't eaten them since childhood, and has never tried to cook them. "Oftentimes, I'm making things for other people, and they'll say they don't like something, and I will say, 'No, why don't you try it like this?' "
"So this is me," Hall says, "doing what I say to other people."
Hall decides to pair the sardines with a surefire favorite: ratatouille. It's a perfect summer dish, bringing together all the vegetables and herbs that are ripening now. Hall puts her own twist on it: She says she doesn't like her ratatouille mushy, so she dices the tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and yellow summer squash into tiny, quarter-inch cubes and sautes them separately to keep them crisp. Spiked with fennel and a dash of lemon, the dish has a tantalizing crunch.
But all that careful chopping and sauteing can't delay the moment of truth indefinitely. It's time for Hall to confront the sardines. She takes a deep breath, cracks open a can and takes a tentative bite. "Oh! Oh, this is good," she says. "This is me saying I'm going to open up another can."
Having conquered her fear of sardines, Hall dredges them in flour spiked with chopped rosemary and chilies, and delicately pan-fries them. Arranged on a colorful mound of ratatouille and garnished with a round of grilled lemon, they make a perfect light summer lunch.
"And to all of you out there who say you don't like sardines," she says, "you have to try this before you say you don't like it."
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