For Justine Smith, executive chef at Sonora Resort in the Great Bear Rainforest, eating and cooking local and sustainable produce is simply a way of life.
Considered a staple of the Mediterranean table, these small, oily fish don’t always get the same love here, despite Pacific sardines being plentiful, delicious, and incredibly nutritious. In this recipe, chef Smith introduces these sustainable bottom feeders as a substitute for the traditional anchovy in a bagna cauda, served with confit sardines, toast and pickles.
A bagna cauda is essentially Italian fondue. Typically served family style in a small pot, it is a mixture of garlic, onion, and anchovy (or sardine in this case) cooked down in oil and butter. Vegetables pickled, cooked, and raw, as well as bread, are dipped in and shared.
This is fancy bagna cauda on toast.
Sonora Resort’s Sardines on Toast
Sardine bagna cauda (recipe below)
Butter for toasting
8-10 sardines (recipe below)
Confit liquid (recipe below)
Pickled vegetables (make ahead, recipe below)
Garlic confit (recipe below)
Garden greens and flowers
For the sardine bagna cauda:
2 large white onions, sliced julienne
5 cloves of garlic chopped
1/8 pound butter
100 ml whipping cream
150 ml sardine oil (recipe below)
1g xantham gum (optional, to help emulsification)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt to taste
For the sardine oil:
2 cloves of garlic, rough chopped
1 shallot, sliced
1 whole sardine, guts removed, cut into pieces
300 ml canola oil
For the confit liquid for sardines:
3 cups canola oil
1.5 cups apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 lemon
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
For the pickled vegetables:
Selection of 2-3 vegetables
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1.5 cups water
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 piece star anise
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
For the confit garlic:
10 cloves garlic
200 ml canola oil
1 sprig thyme
1 teaspoon salt
Sardine bagna cauda:
Sweat onions and garlic in butter on low heat until cooked and translucent with no colour. Add whipping cream and cook on low for 10 minutes further. Transfer onions and cream mixture to a blender and purée on high in until smooth. Add the xantham gum (optional.). Keep the blender on high, slowly stream in sardine oil to emulsify. Season with lemon juice and salt; keep warm until serving.
In a small pot, cook garlic and shallot until golden brown. Add whole chopped sardine and cook until also golden. Add oil to pot and simmer for 10 minutes on low stirring occasionally. Strain through cheesecloth and a fine sieve and reserve.
Fresh or frozen sardines will typically be whole with all the good stuff still intact. To process sardines, make a cut down the belly of the sardine and remove the guts from inside. Gently rinse the sardine in a bowl of cold water. Once the sardine is rinsed, run your knife gently down either side of the spine on the inside of the fish just to gently loosen then run your fingers down either side gently to fully loosen. Using your fingers, pull the spine out from the neck to the tail. Using a knife, gently remove any small bones or impurities—you can add all the removed bones to to sardine oil. Rinse again in a clean bowl of cold water, removing as much of the undesired parts as possible. Let dry on a kitchen towel for a few moments.
Combine all ingredients in a small pot and bring to just below a simmer until garlic is cooked all the way through, with no colour and still holds its shape. Cool everything together; let cloves of garlic drain on kitchen towel before serving.
Cut a square of sourdough for the toast base. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a small frying pan on medium heat. Once butter is foaming, add the piece of sourdough and toast until golden brown. Once achieved, turn bread over and toast the other side until it is also golden brown. Leave to drain for a few moments on a kitchen towel.
Spoon a layer of the sardine bagna cauda over the piece of toasted sourdough. Lay the cooked sardine filet down next. Arrange pickled vegetables, garlic confit, garden greens and flowers to cover the filet (leaving the head on is optional). Drizzle a small amount of finishing olive oil over top and sprinkle with a small pinch of sea salt. Add extra sauce to the plate for more dipping if you’d like to, and enjoy!
For more fresh local recipes, read our Food and Drink section.