These tiny fish are iridescent and silvery and swim in huge schools, usually near the water's surface.

The name is thought to have come from the young pilchards caught off the coast of Sardinia, which were one of the first fish packed in oil.

Because pilchards are a soft-fleshed fish it is important to buy only pilchards that are firm, with heads fully attached and stomachs intact. There should also be a pleasant, fresh smell. Pilchards can also be purchased butterflied (filleted with the head off).

Fresh sardines are available on a limited basis during the summer months, usually only along the coast where they're caught. In the United States, sardines are more commonly found salted, smoked or canned, either in oil, tomato sauce or mustard sauce. Some are packed as is, while others are skinned, boned and sold as fillets.

Clean, gut and scale. This can easily be done by running under cold water and rubbing with the fingers. Wrap whole fish or fillets in plastic wrap or put in an airtight container. Keep up to 2 days in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer providing your freezer operates at-18ºc.

Scale, clean and gut. To butterfly, break head from body and then run thumb down stomach cavity; gut will just come away. Press open flat on a board and remove bones if desired. Smaller species can be served whole, but do need to be scaled and gutted.

An oily fish best suited to grilling, baking or barbecuing. Pilchards can also be coated in flour or crumbed and lightly pan-fried. A strong flavoured fish, it is best suited to ingredients such as onion, garlic, oregano, basil, lemon, Parmesan wine and vegetables such as tomato, eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms. Smaller species are ideal for hors d'oeuvres, entrees, antipasto and seafood platters.



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