Grilled Fresh Sardines with Fennel and Preserved Lemon Recipe

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium fennel bupounds (sometimes labeled “anise”; about 1 1/2 pounds total), stalks discarded and bulb halved lengthwise, then cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges
  • 1/2 red onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (1/2 cup)
  • 4 teaspoons finely chopped rind (zest and white pith) from preserved lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 12 fresh sardines (about 2 to 3 ounces each), cleaned, leaving head and tail intact
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill
  • Special equipment: a well-seasoned ridged grill pan
  1. Heat oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook fennel, onion, preserved lemon rind, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add water and braise, covered, stirring occasionally, until fennel is very tender and slightly caramelized and water is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Keep warm, covered.
  2. Rinse sardines and pat dry, then spread out on a platter. Drizzle sardines with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with sea salt, fennel seeds, and pepper.
  3. Heat grill pan over moderately high heat until hot. Oil grill pan and grill sardines, in 2 batches if necessary, turning over once, until just cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes total per batch. Transfer as cooked to a clean platter with a slotted spatula.
  4. Stir together lemon juice and remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Serve sardines on fennel mixture sprinkled with dill and drizzled with lemon dressing.