Treat yourself to the life of the Pope

This recipe would bring big smiles to the faces of Venetian fishermen from the medieval, baroque and fin-de-siècle era. It’s essentially a simple peasant dish made with fresh sardines, onions and vinegar, which accompanied fishermen on their Northern Adriatic fishing trips lasting several days.

Ingredients

Fish:

24 fresh sardines (~600 g)

2 handfuls of strong wheat flour

1.5 cup (3 dl) oil for frying

salt

Marinade:

2 oz (0.5) dl olive oil

4 onions (~600 g)

0.5 cup (1 dl) white wine vinegar

1 cup (2 dl) dry white wine

3.5 oz (100 g) raisins

3.5 oz (100 g) pine nuts

1 teaspoon cinnamon

salt

= dinner for 2 couples

Cleaning the sardines

Nip the heads of the sardines using your fingers and remove them along with the entrails. Rinse them under cold running water. Rub the skin with your fingers to remove the scales. Gently pat the fish dry with a cloth.

Frying the sardines

Pour the flour into a bowl and roll the first batch of sardines in the flour. Grab the fish by the tail and give them a good shake to remove the excess flour.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and carefully fry the sardines for 2 minutes on each side, so that they become crisp and golden brown. Place the fish on a paper towel to absorb all the excess fat and season lightly with salt. 

Preparing the marinade

Soak the raisins in white wine for at least an hour. Peel the onions and cut them into the thinnest possible slices.

Fry the onions for about 15 minutes, until they break down completely. Add the drained raisins and pine nuts, then season with salt and cinnamon.

Give the ingredients a quick stir, then turn up the heat, add the white wine vinegar and the white wine used to soak the raisins. Braise uncovered for 5 minutes.

Layering

Place the sardines side by side along the bottom of a storage container. Add enough marinade to cover the fish, then arrange some of the onions, pine nuts and raisins on top. Repeat the process until you’ve used up all the fish.

Maturing

Seal the container and put it in the refrigerator for a day or two before serving the dish.

Serving

Take saor out of the refrigerator one hour before serving to bring it to room temperature. Serve it with warm white polenta and well-chilled dry wine. As the locals say, saor may be a dish for the poor, but when you combine it with a serving of polenta and a glass of wine, you’re treating yourself to the life of the Pope.


Saor can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.


Wine pairings

Serve Soave, a blended white wine, the primary component of which is the local Garganega grape, or the more neutral Welschriesling or Sauvignonasse from Brda, which are the local approximations of a mild wine that isn’t overpowering.