Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray are authors of the bestselling cookbook, The New Jewish Table, and owners of the popular DC restaurant, Equinox.
“I was only eight or nine years old when my grandfather, Harry Henkin, taught me how to debone sardines, using a laser-like, precision oriented technique I use to this day.
“He and my grandma Rose were the resident managers of an apartment building in the Glover Park section of Washington, D.C. On weekend visits, I would go on long walks with Grandpa and when we’d get back to their apartment, Grandma Rose would set out a big platter of fish delicacies: pickled and creamed herring, gefilte fish, canned smoked fish, and sardines packed in tomato sauce.
“That’s when Grandpa and I would get to work, using the side of a fork to gently pry open the sardines at their belly flaps and lay their fillets on a plate, skin-sides down. Then we’d pry the spines up, peel them away and put them in a little bowl, anxious to pile up the sardines on crackers, top them with sour cream and sliced onions and devour them. It was a meticulous process and one of the very first times I learned patience with my “prep” when it came to food (metaphorically life itself). Grandpa taught me the technique of de-boning—and to have patience do it right—and we’ve never caught a bone in our sardines to this day!”
Grilled Sardine Sandwich with Zesty Mayonnaise
16 fresh sardine fillets, pin bones removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
8 slices rye bread
Zesty Mayonnaise (recipe follows)
Arugula or soft, sweet lettuce leaves
Grill the sardines. Preheat a George Foreman grill according to the manufacturer’s directions (you can preheat your oven to Broil if you don’t have this handy machine). Drizzle the sardine fillets with the oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange the fillets in the George Foreman grill or on a broiler pan. Cook for 4 minutes; transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.
Assemble the sandwiches. Toast the bread. Arrange all 8 slices on a work surface; spread each with some Zesty Mayonnaise. Top each of 4 slices with arugula and 4 sardines; lay more arugula over the sardines and top with another slice of toast. Cut each sandwich into halves or quarters and serve.
With a fork, blend 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 1/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest, a dash of Tabasco Sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper in a small bowl; stir in 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Makes about 2/3 cup.