The moral of this story is that no matter what the recipe says, sardines need to be gutted.
Sardine poop will ruin the flavor of your meal.
Gut the fish.
When I was a kid, when we lived in Spain, one of my favorite foods was sardines.
Or what I thought was sardines. We always called them sardines and they were little and pickled and we we would eat them with bread and real Coca-Cola, the kind made with cane sugar so it has that burn and not corn sweetener (you can thank the sugar beet lobby for the crummy-tasting Coke we have in the US today, not to mention the loss of candy-making jobs to Canada).
They were not sardines. They were anchovies. Who knew? Recently, my local Sendik's (how I love you Sendik's, especially as you did not make me pay for the not one but two bottles of wine I knocked over and broke because I was charging for the free cheese samples and did not notice the wine display box located strategically at elbow level = swinging shopping basket level) has started to carry pickled anchovies, AKA boquerones.
Before you gag at the words "pickled anchovies," try them. They are yummy. If you like ceviche, you would probably like boquerones.
So I bought some boquerones and they were as yummy as I remembered and I was happy and so was SH because he is an omnivore as well.
Then I bought some more boquerones. As I was waiting there at the fish counter, casually looking back at the bakery counter to see if there was a different clerk there so I could grab another Monster Brownie sample without looking like a pig, I noticed a package of frozen whole Portuguese sardines in the freezer case.
I like Portugal. I like a chance to use my limited Portuguese. Sure, the package has instructions in both English and Portuguese, but I am sophisticated. I will read the Portuguese information and feel superior to those reading in English. Perhaps someone will see me and be impressed. I am feeling very unimpressive these days, so a little admiration from a stranger would not be unwelcome.
And I like sardines. Right? After all, I ate them as a kid. As I thought more deeply, I realized I had eaten them in Morocco when SH and I were in Essouiara. Why wouldn't I not like them now?
My other favorite food from the Iberian peninsula.
I brought them home. Flipped through the Portuguese cookbook I had just gotten from the library the day before (like kismet, right?) and found a recipe for grilled sardines.
That's what we would be having for supper.
The recipe said it was not necessary to clean the fish. As cleaning and gutting fish is not one of my favorite things to do, I said Well great! Less work for me!
I did not think through the implications of not removing the sardine poop from the sardines.
If you think raw sardine poop is bad, wait until you cook it.
SH grilled the sardines and brought them into the house.
Lo, what a strong and nasty smell filled the kitchen. And the bathroom. And the bedroom.
The cats were interested.
I lit candles and turned on the fans.
But bad smell <> bad taste, or at least not always, so we gave it a go.
"It's not so bad if you take off the skin and don't get any of the guts," I said bravely as I picked at the oily, bony carcass.
SH agreed. "It's not so bad."
After one fish, I said, "I think I'm done now."
"But there are ten more fish!" SH protested. "What about the rest of them?"
"Maybe for lunch," I answered.
Lunch came. I looked at the fish. I looked at the rest of the fridge.
Cheese and crackers it was.
SH was not happy. "You are wasting that fish," he scolded.
He was right. But how much suffering should I have to endure not to waste?
I tried again at supper time. I scraped off the skin and then pulled the flesh off carefully, breaking off the parts that had poop on them.
You can't wipe it off. It's too sticky.
It tasted - OK. But fish cooked with the poop gets a poop infusion that is difficult to eradicate.
The cats, meanwhile, had begun their pre-meal vigil, which is when they find me and whine and whine and whine in case I forget to feed them because IT'S ALMOST 5:00! AND 5:00! IS WHEN WE EAT!
I saw an opportunity.
I am not a cat coddler - I am not SH, who cuts melon into very small pieces because that's how Laverne likes it - but I am a Not Food Waster. If being a Not Food Waster means deboning small fish so my cats can eat it and maybe being called a Cat Coddler, then I am guilty. Not Food Waster > Cat Coddling in my hierarchy.
The cats loved the fish. They had never had such a delightful stinky delicacy before. More please, they asked. Please sir may I have some more?
Happy Cats + Not Wasted Food = Perfect Solution. The End.
Cat Coddler in Chief.