Saturday, January 17, 2015

Pickled sardines

Just putting it out there ... does anyone have a tried and true recipe for pickled sardine fillets?

We call them 'mulies' where I come from. These particular fish are my formative experience as a worker, when I dropped out of school and the folks packed me off to the fish factory. I think they reasoned that hosing rotten mulies out from under brine tanks would make me question my footloose tendancies and send me hightailing it back to the comfort of the English Lit, Social Studies, Algebra and Art.

Not so. I fell in with the lot whose Tshirt sleeves were squared with packets of winnie blue, who smoked joints in the car park at lunch time and brawled over errant husbands and wives. I loved it. (Well, Mum and Dad did say uni was too expensive.) I loved seeing the salmon fishers come in with their trucks full of fish seined straight off the beach. I loved working at that cold factory on the channel where the southerly blew straight from Antarctica to my spot at the the conveyor belt. We waited in our woollies for the mulie fishers to come in with their bounty. At 11pm the women working in the vegetable section brought us ice cream containers of  hot par-fried potato chips. Salted. I think those partially raw potato chips were the best meals I've ever eaten in my life.

In 2008, a few weeks before my mate Bob died, he said to me, "I've been cooking up mulies for Bobcat. I buy them in the bait section, rinse them, wipe off the scales with my fingers and cook them real quick, add a bit of gelatine and give her this kind of beautiful sardine brawn." I only realised later that he was giving me instructions on how to nourish the black cat he was bequeathing me. "She really loves it," he said gently.

Ebby has thrived and grown glossy and fat from my work as a fisherwoman but lately we've had to buy fish. Today I saw a bag of mulies in the supermarket pet food freezer that looked remarkably, really, fucking yummy. I've spent enough time in fish factories and on commercial boats to know which fish have been handled badly - the bruised, the inedible and nothing but bait fish - and which ones will be good fodder for us bipeds.

This bag of bait looked particularly tasty so I bought them, took them home, filleted them and salted them down. I'm wondering now if you pickle sardines the same way as I pickle herring every year. Any ideas or old family secrets you are willing to impart?

(And the cat? She's pretty happy.)


  1. Fish-pickling recipes are outside my repertoire, I'm afraid. Maybe if you were cooking snake or roo tail or something ...

    ... so ... you've recently inherited a cat called Bobcat, and you've also got a cat called Ebby? On top of Selkie the pup? Is that right?

    I'm also curious about how the "u" in mulies is pronounced.

  2. Oh, that may be confusing, sorry. I call her Bobcat because she was Bob's cat but her name is Ebony coz she black.

    Not like 'Mullies' to answer your second query. It's a long vowel as opposed to a short one.

  3. We used to go down to the mulie boats and scrape dozens of them off the decks to rock salt down in a plastic tub. Tasted just like anchovies when they had been sitting a while. Then we'd pig out with a beer or two.

    I am pretty sure my family went through a spate of pickling herring by dry frying quite hard first and then pickling in big jars. I can ask my Mum if you like. Would work for mulies I reckon. The Dutch are mad for salted and pickled fish.

  4. I like that idea of a quick dry fry and then preserving with salted black bean. That sounds similar. to the Asian way. Thanks Michelle, ask her.

  5. I once pickled a huge batch of fresh herring in the Swedish style with brine and spices, and the recipe said 'can be eaten in three days, but gets better the longer you leave them'. I spent bloody ages gutting and generally cleaning the things, then sat back for about two weeks to wait to taste them.

    I took the lid off to find the whole thing had liquified and could only be drunk. I sent them back to the sea.

  6. Replies
    1. Hey Tom, did you salt them first? I do know that pickled fish need to be salted overnight first, to leach the flesh of water. Otherwise it probably would go a bit slushy.