I have a weakness for preserved fish. I have dozens of cans of sardines, plus a few tins of dace and jars of expensive tuna and anchovies, stashed away in the event of, say, a zombie apocalypse.
I don’t eat the preserved fish straight out of the tin; instead, I use them in easy dishes, such as these two.
Linguine with dace, chillies, spring onions and breadcrumbs
An oval can of fried dace is a standard pantry item in many Chinese households. My mother used to open a can whenever she thought she needed one more dish for a family meal – usually, she just steamed the fried dace; my brothers and I loved the soft, edible bones. Occasionally, she would stir-fry the fish – with all the oily, delicious juices from the can – with Chinese kale or lettuce. But the fish is also excellent in this East-meets-West pasta dish. If you like, mix in a couple of handfuls of arugula just before serving, and let the greens wilt in the residual heat.
1 can (227 grams) dace fish (use the plain type, or the one flavoured with fermented black beans)
1-2 garlic cloves
1 red bird’s-eye chilli
1 long red banana chilli
15 grams panko
2 spring onions
300 grams linguine
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Halve and thinly slice the shallots and roughly chop the garlic. Slice the bird’s-eye chilli in half lengthwise and scrape out and discard the seeds before cutting the flesh into 2mm pieces. Slice the banana chilli on the diagonal about 3mm wide, and cut the spring onions into 5mm pieces.
2 Heat a large pot of salted water over a high flame and when it boils, add the pasta.
3 While the pasta is boiling, cook the ingredients, trying to time them so they are ready when the pasta is al dente. Open the can of dace and spoon off about 30ml of oil (floating on the surface) into a wok or skillet. Place the wok or skillet over a high flame and when the oil is hot, add the shallot and garlic.
Cook until fragrant, stirring often, then add the bird’s-eye and banana chillies. Cook for about 30 seconds, then add the panko and stir until the breadcrumbs start to brown. Add the dace and spring onions and mix gently, breaking up the fish into bite-sized pieces. Season to taste with salt.
4 When the linguine is al dente, ladle off about 100ml of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta in a colander. Add about 50ml of the pasta cooking water to the wok or skillet, bring to a simmer and stir well. Add the drained linguine and gently lift and mix the pasta so it is coated with the sauce and ingredients. The sauce should lightly coat the pasta; if it seems dry, mix in more of the pasta water. Season with freshly ground black pepper and more salt, if needed. Mix again, then divide the pasta between three plates. Serve immediately.
Sardine spaghetti with fennel and tomatoes
1 small fennel bulb
1 garlic clove
10 small tomatoes, preferably the oval- or pear-shaped local tomatoes
A pinch of chilli flakes, or to taste
2 tins of sardines in tomato sauce (about 120 grams each)
A little fresh lemon zest
200 grams spaghetti
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Slice the fennel about 3mm thick. Stack the slices, then cut them into 3mm-thick batons. Halve the garlic and shallot, then thinly slice them. Cut the tomatoes in half.
2 Heat a large pot of salted water over a high flame and, when it boils, add the spaghetti.
3 While the pasta is boiling, cook the ingredients, trying to time them so they are ready when the pasta is al dente.
Heat about 20ml of olive oil in a skillet placed over a medium flame. Add the fennel and cook until the vegetable starts to soften slightly. Stir in the garlic, shallot and chilli flakes and cook briefly; mix in more olive oil, if needed. Add the tomatoes, sprinkle with salt, then cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes start to soften and give off their juices. Add the sardines (and the tomato sauce), then simmer for about two minutes.
4 When the spaghetti is al dente, ladle off about 80ml of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta in a colander. Add about 30ml of the pasta cooking water to the skillet, stir well and bring to the simmer. Add the drained linguine and gently lift and mix the pasta so it is coated with the sauce and ingredients.
The sauce should lightly coat the pasta; if it seems dry, mix in more of the pasta water. Season with freshly ground black pepper and more salt, if needed. Use a rasp-type grater (such as a Microplane) to grate lemon zest directly over the pasta, then mix again. Divide the ingredients between two plates and serve immediately.