Sardella calabrese

by Thom Eagle

A fish-based preserve originating in Calabria


For the fermented pepper paste:
8 large red peppers
Sea salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed

100g coarse sea salt
50g caster sugar
1kg sardine fillets

For the marinade:
4 large red peppers
200g fermented pepper paste
50g mild red pepper flakes
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted

To serve:
50g walnuts, toasted and roughly crushed
A small bunch of parsley, picked and washed (about 50g)
Juice of ½ lemon


Halve the peppers. Remove the stalks and deseed, then chop roughly. Weigh the chopped flesh and mix it with 2 per cent of its weight in salt. Pile into a colander and leave overnight.

The next day, blitz the salted pepper with the garlic as finely as you can—a blender is ideal. Pour into a jar, leaving a good 10cm of headroom—this is an extremely active ferment—and seal. Leave to ferment for 3 days, then store in the fridge.

Mix the salt and the sugar and toss with the sardines in a bowl. Layer the fillets in a non-reactive container, adding any loose cure mix. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Rinse and dry the sardines then lay them on a rack in the fridge to dry out overnight. At the end of this they should feel slightly tacky to the touch, which is the perfect texture for taking on their chilli cure.

Meanwhile, prepare the marinade. Roast the peppers ideally over open flame, placing them directly on the hob and turning until the skin has blackened all over. If you don’t have a gas hob you can grill them or roast them at 220C, where they should take around 20 mins.

Once the peppers are black all over place them in a bowl and cover. Leave them until they are cool enough to handle, during which time they will steam and soften further, then peel and deseed them. The skin should come off easily. Place the roasted flesh in a food processor with the fermented pepper paste and the spices and blitz everything to a loose salsa.

Chop the sardine fillets into bite-sized pieces, mix with the pepper mixture and pack tightly into a jar or a container. They should be completely coated, but it will not necessarily cover them like the liquid in a pickle. Seal the container and place in the fridge for five days.

To serve, toss the sardines with the walnuts and parsley, seasoning with a little lemon juice.

ALTERNATIVE This also makes a good sauce for chubby pasta shapes such as orecchiette or cavatelli. Just toss it through the hot pasta with a little of the cooking water and some fresh herbs.

Recipe: Thom Eagle