All things sweet and sour please me greatly. This treatment of sardines tastes so good and makes a very pretty dish when set down outdoors for summer lunch. There are 8 in the bed and the little one says, â€˜eat me.â€™
Soak the sultanas in just-boiled water for an hour or so. Sprinkle the flour on to a plate and season with a generous pinch of salt and a couple of twists of black pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan. The oil must be hot; otherwise by the time the fish is browned it will be overcooked. Roll the sardines in the flour, patting off any excess, and fry quickly in the oil until well browned on both sides and cooked. Remove to a serving plate, handling them carefully. Wipe the pan clean with a thick wad of kitchen paper. Peel and halve the red onions and slice them as thinly as your patience will allow: the thinner, the better. Keep to one side. In a dry frying pan toast the cumin and coriander seeds until the coriander begins to pop; do not allow them to burn. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the pan, followed by the onions, drained sultanas, thyme sprigs and bay leaves, and fry gently. On no account allow the onions to colour; cook them until they are just beginning to soften. Season to taste.
Peel the rind from 1 of the oranges into wide strips and add to the pan. Squeeze the juice from both the oranges and pour over the onions. Add the sherry vinegar and bring to the boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced by a third. Remove from the heat and pour over the sardines in their dish. Cover and leave to stand for a minimum of 2 hours before serving, turning once. Just before serving, put the pine nuts in a small, dry frying pan and cook for 5â€“6 minutes over a medium heat until golden brown, turning often so that they donâ€™t burn. Scatter the pine nuts over the sardines, dribble over some good olive oil and strew with some fresh young thyme leaves just before you bring the plate to the table. Eat with good bread for mopping up the juices and any onion or sultana stragglers.