Sardines are a big deal in Portugal. Together with bacalhau (salted cod), the sardine has become a symbol of Portuguese food and culture recognised around the world. A visitor to Portugal will not need to search much to see sardines on a menu, printed on t-shirts, made out porcelain, on designer goods etc…
The cornerstone of Portuguese coastal lifestyle. The smell of sardines grilling outdoors flavours any recollections of walks trough Bairro Alto in Lisbon, Ribeira in Porto or a small town on the coast of Alentejo.
This is one of those incredibly simple dishes which can very easily go wrong. The two main elements are the sardines themselves and the “assador” the person who grills them. In restaurants specialising in grilled fish this is a specific person, different from the chef.
The traditional season for Sardines in Portugal is July during the religious festivals. Sardines feature in everything from large banquets to fast food stalls where you eat one on a piece of bread while standing and drinking a glass of wine or sangria.
Sardines for grilling need to be absolutely fresh, medium size and pre-salted for at least 30 minutes.
Now, BBQ is a big topic! Once you get over the Anglo-Saxon obsession with cooking cheap and nasty bangers and burgers on what is possibly the best cooking method – grilling over lump-wood charcoal. The three letter word starts to become more useful. In Portugal, churrasco or grelhados ao carvão is often synonym with extremely fresh food, simply seasoned and cooked to perfection.The terminology is itself ambiguous and the words “assar” and “grelhar” are used interchangeably depending on the ingredients (e.g. sardinhas assadas, peixe grelhado)! Let’s keep it ambiguous!