Grilled Sardines with Lemon and Thyme
20 to 25 minutes
Grilled sardines are the bomb. These rich, firm little fish are easy to work with, and they cook in minutes—so fast that you shouldn’t stray from the grill. They’re best when the skin takes on some char and gets quite crisp. Hit them with lemon juice and a final pinch salt and you’ll understand why fresh sardines are popular throughout the Mediterranean.
The only challenge is finding them. Specialty seafood markets or the best supermarket counters have them, or can order them. Anytime you see them looking shiny and brightly colored, grab some. You can have your fishmonger clean the sardines, but it’s really not hard: First, rake a small, sharp knife along both sides of the fish from the tail to the head to remove the scales. Then insert the knife in the belly at the tail and slit up the middle to the head. Pull out the innards with your finger, running it from one end of the fish to the other. Then rinse and pat the sardines dry with paper towels. After cooking, the head and inedible bones are easily removed. You can use this recipe to prepare other small fish, like whiting, and it’s easily multiplied to cook in batches for a crowd.
1 pound fresh sardines, cleaned (see the headnote)
Good-quality olive oil for brushing the fish
Salt and pepper
1 small bunch fresh thyme
Lemon wedges for serving
1. Start the coals or heat a gas grill for medium-high direct cooking. Make sure the grates are clean.
2. Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Brush them with oil and season with salt and pepper on both sides and in the cavity. Tuck in the thyme sprigs—or wait and scatter them over the fish after turning.
3. Put the fish on the grill directly over the fire, at an angle or perpendicular to the grate. Cook, turning once, until the skin is charred in places and the fish release easily, 2 to 4 minutes per side, depending on their size and how hot the fire is. The easiest way to test for doneness is to insert a skewer or thin knife through the thickest point. If it goes in without resistance, the fish is done. Transfer the fish to a platter and serve with lemon wedges and a final sprinkle of salt.