Little fish, big flavour

2009-07-23 00:00

THE sardine run moves northwards between May and July up the wild coast of South Africa, followed by their predators. It is comparable to East Africa’s wildebeest migration.

This run contains millions of individual sardines. However, little is known of this spectacular phenomenon. It’s believed the water temperature has to drop below 21 degrees Celsius in order for this ocean migration to take place.

In 2003, the sardines failed to run for the third time in 23 years and it didn’t happen in 2006 either. They look like non-runners this year too.

The shoals are often more than seven kilometres long, 1,5 kilometres wide and 30 metres deep. They group together when threatened, forming bait balls, an instinctive defence mechanism as individuals are more likely to be eaten than large groups. Dolphins expertly herd the sardines into these bait balls and once rounded up, sharks, game fish and gulls all take advantage … and on land, people.

A nation that really appreciates sardines is Portugal and ironically on December 25, 1497, it was the Portuguese adventurer, Vasco da Gama, who first navigated and charted the coast of KwaZulu-Natal and named it Natal, which means Christmas in Portuguese. Sardines are everywhere in Portugal, people grilling and eating them usually plain and traditional, but very, very fresh, with lemon and black pepper and generally ungutted. Like me, most people prefer them cleaned.

If and when the sardines pass Durban’s shores, this is how I’d cook them at The Corner Post. Sardines are generously fatty and need an incredibly hot pan or grill to cook them on or else they will stick and you won’t be able to turn them without them breaking up. I like to serve a simple little leaf salad of tomatoes to cut through the richness, a large handful of chopped chives for the oniony flavour and plenty of bread to help down any tiny bones.

Of all the kitchens in Europe, those of Portugal have been the least influenced by France and food fashions, and I love them for it.



• Dan Evans is head chef at the Corner Post Bar and Dining Room in Howick.

Phone 033 330 7636 or visit


Two sardines per person, cleaned and gutted but heads left on.

Leave them (while your braai or pan heats up) in a colander for 30 minutes with a generous sprinkling of salt.

Grill, splashed with olive oil, for three minutes on either side. Serve with lemon wedges, tomato salad and hot Portuguese rolls.

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