Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Recipe #24: Sardine Stew in A Flash

One of my daughters recently mentioned that she has a hard time making what has to be one of the fastest, easiest Ghanaian recipes of all time: sardine stew. It's one of the first things I taught my adopted nephews to cook when they arrived from Ghana.

I looked in my old journals from years ago and saw that I had actually written it up once, so here are my notes, typed almost verbatim. This is one of those recipes that is so simple it never gets written down.

I whipped up this stew for lunch so I could include some pictures here.

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Sardines have been rediscovered. Years ago, our Victorian ancestors considered them haute cuisine, and served them at dinner parties in fancy crystal and silver sardine servers. More recently, they have gained favor because they are filled with protein, minerals, vitamins, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Yet they are still inexpensive, and can be conveniently stored on the shelf next to cans of tuna fish. They are already cooked, and have a mild, pleasant flavor.

My Norwegian grandfather used to eat sardines, but I never ate them myself until I went to work in Ghana and learned to favor them with a ball of kenkey and some fiery shito, or in this simple and satisfying stew. My grandfather ate the tiny sardines in oil in the flat tin box that you open with a key, and those can be used, but more common are the larger herrings that are canned with chili sauce or tomato sauce (NOTE: like those marketed by Goya) and that can be found in grocery stores in the Mexican or Asian food sections.

Sardine stew can be cooked up in a flash when you're tired or company arrives unexpectedly. The last time I cooked it I timed myself, and it took less than 20 minutes to prepare everything, except for allowing a little more cooking time--and that even included the time it took me to wash out the frying pan soaking from lunch and solve my teenage daughter's problem with overfilling the lawnmower.
This stew goes well with plain boiled rice, and I usually put a couple of cups of long-grain rice on to cook before I begin the stew (NOTE: If you don't have an electric rice cooker, but could, I highly recommend getting one). This recipes serves about 4.


1 medium onion, peeled and chopped or sliced
4 Tablespoons (1/4 cup) peanut or other vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon dried ground red pepper (or more to taste)

15-ounce can sardines in tomato (or chili) sauce
1/2 cup of water
(Optional additions: 2 eggs, beaten, 2 tablespoons canned tomato paste)


Peel and slice or chop the onion.
Heat the 4 tablespoons peanut or other oil on medium heat in a heavy 10-inch frying pan, then add the chopped onion and fry it on medium heat for a few minutes until it is translucent.
Stir in the red pepper and 1/4 cup of the water (NOTE: if you like you could also add a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and/or a couple of beaten eggs here with the water to make a richer, thicker sauce).
Open the can of sardines and gently empty it into the frying pan, leaving the sardines whole if you like, or allowing them to break up into small pieces.
Use 1/4 cup water to rinse out the sardine can, and add to the stew.
Add salt to taste (or none), turn the heat to low and allow the stew to simmer for 10 or 15 minutes until the rice is ready.

To serve:
Ladle a generous spoonful of rice onto your plate, and cover with a spoonful of stew.
If you desire another vegetable, cook up some fresh or frozen veggies (in the microwave, if you have one), or saute some cabbage or other greens while the stew is simmering.

My family members would automatically spoon some shito onto the side of the plate alongside the stew (or use any hot sauce).
We often simply top the meal off with seasonal fresh fruit.

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