Not only are sardines packed with flavor and easy to prepare, they are among the most sustainable species of fish. The addictive, crispy skin of these sardines, and the fresh flavors of green garlic and mint, come together for an inviting antipasto or a light main course. Prepare this dish in spring, when green garlic starts to appear at farmers’ markets. If green garlic is not available, scallions make a good substitute.

Roasted Sardines with Bread Crumbs, Green Garlic and Mint. Serves 6 as an antipasto or 4 as a main course

by Chef Nate Appleman – A16, San Francisco

12 2-oz. fresh sardines, scaled, gutted

Kosher salt

Extra virgin olive oil

4 stalks green garlic, trimmed, thinly sliced crosswise

1⁄2 C coarse fresh bread crumbs, toasted

1 T salt-packed capers, soaked, minced

1⁄3 C loosely-packed fresh mint leaves, torn by hand

1⁄2 lemon

Preheat oven to 500˚ F.

If the fresh sardines have not been scaled or gutted, it is easy to do. First, using a sharp paring knife, make a slit along the belly of fish. Pry fish open and scrape and rinse out its innards. Next, lay fish, flesh-side-down, on a work surface. Grasping tail and working from tail to head, drag blunt edge of knife the length of fish to remove scales. Rinse fish well, pat dry and repeat with remaining fish. Clean work surface before proceeding.

Working with one fish at a time, remove head. Gently pry open belly to expose the backbone. Place fish, skin-side-up, on a work surface and run palm of hand along spine to loosen it, then trim off back fin. Turn sardine over. Starting at head end, pull backbone toward tail in a single motion. Part of tail may come off with backbone. Rinse sardine under cold running water, checking for any loose bones, and then pat dry. Repeat with remaining sardines.

Arrange butterflied sardines on a baking sheet, skin-side-up. Season both sides with salt and brush both sides lightly with olive oil. Roast sardines, skin-side-up, for about 5 minutes or until cooked through and the skin begins to sizzle.

Meanwhile, in a small sauté pan, heat a few tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add green garlic and sauté for about 1 minute or until softened. With a slotted spoon, remove green garlic and set aside. Over medium-low heat, replenish sauté pan with a few additional tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle in bread crumbs. Sauté for about 2 minutes or until they crisp up and darken slightly. Remove from heat, add green garlic, stir in capers and mint, and set aside until serving.

To serve:

Transfer sardines to a serving platter or divide among individual plates. Squeeze lemon half over the top. Spoon green garlic mixture over sardines and drizzle with olive oil to finish. Serve immediately.

Reprinted with permission from A16: Food + Wine by Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren, Copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.

*Seafood Watch® recommends wild-caught Pacific sardines from the U.S.