Sardella: Calabrian Caviar

by Annie


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This year’s sardella batch is upon us! Sardella is a Calabrian variant of an ancient Roman staple, a salted fish sauce called garum. As such it is a culinary tradition that has been repeated every year in Calabria since antiquity. Of course, trust the Calabresi to take any food and add large quantities of peperoncino (spicy red pepper) to make it even tastier. And grateful we are to them for it!

This mouth watering delicacy is made from newly hatched sardines, salt, peperoncino, and wild fennel tips. The minuscule fish are washed in fresh water, drained in baskets, and then layered in terracotta jars with salt and the red pepper. After two days, it is all mixed together by hand (hopefully they remember to not touch their eyes over the following 24 hours!) and then placed in jars to cure for six to seven months.

Usually eaten as a spread on bread, it is also used in many local dishes, particularly pasta. Just add a bit of warm water from the pasta to a heaping spoonful of sardella in a glass to “melt” it or “loosen” it up, and then add it to the cooked pasta. Delicious! No surprise they call il caviale della Calabria (Calabrian caviar).


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