Grilled fresh sardines

2015-05-28 06:00

Gary Hastings Wild Coast Sun executive chef

SALUTATIONS calamaris and battered hake. When I was the executive chef of the Berjaya Mahe beach resort in the Seychelles, in preparation for the 1996 swim-suit section of the Miss World pageant, the general manager and myself, both being seasoned divers, had to assist with the construction of a walkway across the hotel’s large pool.

The challenge was to ensure that the pool was in pristine condition and this was done using regular scuba gear. The more difficult part was securing the scaffolding using under-water free diving. The whole process took five days although the work was in the shallower areas it did not make it any more dangerous when weaving in among metal scaffolding securing tying and bolting all into place.

Any divers first encounter with the underwater universe begins in a pool whereby after being adequately trained in theory and practicals, once the pass mark has been achieved the never-to-be-forgotten first dive occurs.

Scuba diving in the Seychelles is as good as it gets, with crystal clear waters as well as a vast diversity of enthralling marine life - it is the place for unforgettable dives. In the decade I lived in the Seychelles there was rarely a day that passed when I was not underwater. I am blessed to have so many memories of my encounters and my love of the ocean and all its wonders will never cease.

Diving does come with some dangers. Firstly, know your limitations. I was in a natural coral tunnel and was totally freaked out by the experience and nearly damaged my tanks on the overhang.

Another time I had just entered the water when at 20 metres down the O ring on my tank broke and within seconds all the air was released leaving it empty.

The golden rule when diving is always have a buddy, which I did, and who happened to be a master diver who assisted me with buddy breathing and got me back aboard. He then gave me a new bottle and threw me back into the ocean and before the enormity of what had happened to me could sink in I was back enjoying a superlative dive.

The visibility in the Seychelles is phenomenal and while free diving I had the most remarkable experience. I made out a shape of roughly two-metres in length swimming lazily towards me. Once it came into full focus with its distinctive eyes and pouty mouth it was a blue-green hue with a distinctive humped head which I thought to be somewhat captivating. I was seeing for the first time a rare fish called a napoleon (known elsewhere as the humpback wrasse).

A couple of years ago during a trip to Port St Johns, I came to realise that although I was a seasoned diver I was lacking a seemingly all important ingredient - insanity.

I met two photographic divers who were there documenting our famous sardine run. One was from Russia and the other from Spain.

When these two gentleman were not trying to end each other’s lives prematurely by beating the hell out of each other they were bragging about their daily dives in among millions of sardine and very hungry territorial sharks, and judging by the extraordinary somewhat unbelievable photographs and film footage they had they were clearly talented, but certainly not all there.

The mind-boggling numbers of these shoals can be 14km long, four kilometres wide and 40 metres deep. This generates a feeding frenzy with larger predator fish including sharks, dolphins, geelbek, Garrick, king mackerel and shad all joining in. Dolphins are responsible for rounding up the sardines into bait balls. They can be 15 metres in diameter and be as deep as 10 metres, once a bait ball is completed all join in and the sardines have no chance of escape.

Very little is known about the sardine run, but researchers believe that the water temperature has to be below 21°C.

In some years there does not appear to be a sardine run, this may be because it is not detected by coastal observers either because it actually does not occur due to high water temperatures or other hydro- graphic barriers or the migration may occur further offshore and possibly deeper due to unusual conditions - all of this could be partially responsible for three non-runs in 23 years.

In 2006 when I first came to the Wild Coast I told my son about this annual spectacle and we waited daily for the miracle to occur.

One day he called to me that the sardines are running whereby I burst outside looking hopefully out to sea, only to encounter my cheeky child running in the garden with a tin of sardines - he obviously was bored with the wait, which turned out to be not until the following year as 2006 was a non-run year.

So in closing dear readers, go outside on a pristine day, mark off 100 feet plus at north south east and west, now you have your circumference and imagine the same visibility underwater filled with barracuda, angelfish, soft and hard corals with clown fish white and black tipped reef sharks, huge aggressive potato bass, comical yellow rubber lipped oriental sweetlips, razor fish, trumpet fish, spiny lobsters, brightly coloured parrot fish, schools of tiny reef fish, green turtles and zebra eels.

This is what awaits you when you become in control of your buoyancy

Hundreds.

Ingredients

•12 fresh sardines, gutted scaled and rinsed

•4 diced tomatoes

•500ml Rio Largo olive oil

•½ cup chopped black olives

•chopped parsley

•1 small bunch basil, chopped

•1 small bunch coriander, chopped

•1 red onion, finely chopped

•5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

•100 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

•Khoisan sea salt

•freshly ground rainbow pepper

•sliced lemons

•sliced tomatoes

Method

•Using kitchen towels completely dry the sardines set aside.

•In a mixing bowl combine the diced tomatoes, 200 ml of olive oil, olives, parsley, basil , red onion, garlic, and coriander, add a dash of lemon juice, teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper set aside.

•Place sardines on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.

•Place on a hot grill and allow to cook till the skin has firmed then turn over and finish them off.

•Brush the lemon and tomato slices and grill till marked on both sides.

•Place the tomato and herb mixture on a platter arrange the grilled sardines on top, season with salt and pepper arrange the grilled tomatoes and lemon on the side of the fish, drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Very little is known about the sardine run, but researchers believe that the water temperature has to be below 21°C. In some years there does not appear to be a sardine run, this may be because it is not detected by coastal observers either because it actually does not occur due to high water temperatures or other hydro- graphic barriers or the migration may occur further offshore and possibly deeper due to unusual conditions - all of this could be partially responsible for three non-runs in 23 years

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