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  • Writer's pictureKev Thomas Writes

Portuguese Style Sardines on the BBQ

Above: We love the UK's narrowboat living lifestyle

In this post I’m going to move away from my normal posts about sport hunting, guns, and historical stuff of a similar vein. Instead, I’m going to post a Blog about food, although I’m certainly no foodie blogger. As some readers will be aware we live on a boat in the UK, a 60’ liveaboard narrowboat. When we emigrated in November 2015 and arrived in the UK, we’d already decided a narrowboat was the way to go. Firstly, it suited our budget, although more importantly, and with over 2000 miles of navigable waterways in the UK, the flexibility it afforded also appealed to our lifestyle.

Unfortunately, and for several reasons we haven’t been able to cruise as much as we’d originally hoped to. However, and having said that, we’ve had some wonderful cruises along the Kennet & Avon Canal, as far as Bristol Harbour. We’re also getting older, and now in our 70s have found working canal locks can be hard physical work. It all depends on the state the locks are in. All of that aside though, we love our boat and the liveaboard lifestyle even if we’re permanently moored in a marina now and no longer cruise as much as we would’ve liked to. However, short duration cruises still offer a welcome change, although it’s nice to know you still have your own berth and mooring to return to.

Above: Our boat barbecue is small, compact, and functional, folding away for easy storage when not being used.

Without further digression, boat life has allowed us to indulge in our passion for barbecue. Here in the UK our spring and summer days are lengthy with it only getting dark late. On a balmy day these long hours of daylight lend themselves to an evening barbecue, or braai, as it’s called where we come from. Having spent most of our working lives in southern Africa’s safari and tourist related fields, barbecuing was part of our service to clients. When not entertaining clientele we also enjoyed a regular weekend barbecue, either on our own or with friends. Wherever we lived I always ensured we built a functional barbecue, and we made it part of our garden landscape.

Boat living changes the equation slightly, our barbecue is small, compact, functional, and portable. In fact, we’re now on our third barbecue because during spring, summer, and autumn (weather allowing in autumn), we literally burn the bottom out of them. This doesn’t happen because they have been made from substandard material. It’s because we barbecue a lot. And by a lot, I mean like fourteen evenings straight a few weeks ago when the UK was experiencing a heat wave. On the lawn shore space to the front of our boat we have a picnic table with an umbrella. We also have ample shade from a bushy tree growing at the water’s edge. On a nice day it’s a lovely environment to just chill. And barbecue.

Since living in the UK, we’ve had more barbecues than we ever had when living in Zimbabwe, or South Africa. We’ve also experimented a lot more with food suitable for barbecue. Bren is a superb chef and has always loved cooking and producing mouth watering cuisine. Barbecuing in southern Africa has always been considered a masculine pastime. The hostess makes the salads, lays out the cutlery etc. The man of the house does the actual barbecuing. It’s ingrained tradition. So much so it can cause tension on the social front because the menfolk hang around the barbecue, chatting, drinks in hand. The womenfolk normally sit off to one side on the lawn, or on the veranda. There’s little intermingling. In our family it’s never been that way, Bren likes to barbecue so I’ve always let her get on with it. She does it well. Mind you, I’m always close by, with wine glass in hand while giving advice, most of which is incorrect. It’s just the way we barbecue, and always have.

Above: Fresh sardines, a sliced red onion with diced red and green peppers, a sliced garlic clove and coarse salt is all it takes.

Perhaps because I spent my Rhodesian boyhood living close to Mozambique, and visiting that country regularly, I developed a love of Portuguese peri-peri chicken, Portuguese style sardines in coarse salt, and other Portuguese culinary delights. Not many people know the true fiery peri-peri chicken which has gained so much favour globally nowadays, comes from Mozambique, not Portugal. Even the Nando’s brand restaurants were inspired by Mozambican peri-peri which is derived from the tiny birds’ eye chilli. This hot spicy delicacy grows in profusion right across Mozambique, and is an important ingredient in most Mozambican dishes.

Above: Add olive oil to the frying pan.

In the UK we’re spoilt with the availability of fresh fish, and although much of it is pricey, my favourite, fresh sardines, certainly aren’t. At our local supermarket fishmonger, I can buy 6 nice sardines for about £2.00 or less. In Portugal sardines barbecued with coarse salt are sold as street food. And they are extremely popular with visitor and local alike. I love sardines off the barbecue as a form of ‘starter’ to the main course.

Above: Using a frying pan, rather than placing the sardines directly onto the barbecue grill it also allows you to include the onion and peppers in the sardine cooking process. Peri peri and coarse salt are added during the cooking process.

Rather than place them on the barbecue grill directly over the hot coals, as they do in Portugal, Bren places them on the grill in a frying pan, with a splash of olive oil. She garnishes the sardines with sliced red onion together with chopped green and red peppers, and a generous sprinkling of coarse sea salt. We also add a sprinkling of diced birds’ eye chilli. If the coals are sufficiently hot, the sardines take mere minutes to cook, while being frequently turned during the process. Bren willingly prepares sardines in the Portuguese style for me; however, she doesn’t eat them. In South Africa’s superb Ocean Basket seafood restaurant chain (one has just opened in Kent, here in the UK), I always had their Portuguese style sardines as a starter, followed by a seafood platter for one. They present the sardines in the frying pan which serves as your plate. A good idea, and one which I have copied.

Above: Turning them constantly while over the hot coals soon has the tasty sardines ready.

Friends not yet familiar with barbecued sardines often ask me if the sardine bones are a problem. They aren’t, because you eat a barbecued sardine in much the same way as you’d eat a grilled sole. Using your fork, you lift the flesh away from the skeleton, and if done correctly you end up discarding the head and tail which will still be attached to either end of the skeleton. They might not be as filling as a sole, however, they are certainly a tasty addition to barbecue and I’ll always enjoy them as a starter.

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