#cookingoutloud. Preparation for small, delicate fishes like sardines, for far too long, have been subject to thoughtlessness and negligence, an insult on their sacrifices in extraordinary numbers to be on our dinner tables. Often times thrown on a grill in neglect where their slender build torn and overcook while their scales are left on the skins to frustrate whatever little excitement that is left. Look, small fishes will not accept your repentance of a lemon wedge, no more.
First, scale them, however small and tedious they are, pay them the same respect taken as a given by any other fishes, scale them. Then clean them well, inside out, and salt them well, inside out no less. Then think, think about how the desire for a perfectly cooked, supple flesh as well as the charring of the skins can be achieved on a thinness this delicate?
Warm, not scorch, but warm a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Gently arrange the fishes in the skillet before scattering a couple cloves of thinly sliced garlics and red chilis around and about. The skins should not brown, the garlics should not brown, nothing is allowed the aggression of browning at this point, almost poaching instead of frying, tenderly cook each side of the fish for about a minute only.
Gently transfer the fishes onto a baking sheet, then with a blow-torch, blister and char the millimeter depth across the entire surface of each fish, on both sides, bringing the breath of the grill without the risk of overcooking. Reheat the skillet on medium-high heat and cook until the garlic slices are crispy, then add about 1/2 of a lemon zest and more dousing of extra virgin olive oil, brightening it back up.
Spoon the oil mixture over the fishes, and serve warm or room-temperature, with your hands only. Now you may talk about lemon wedges.