You can usually depend on finding fresh sardines in markets during summer in the south of France. Luckily it is now far easier to buy them here too; they may be Portuguese – check whether they have been frozen. But given a supply of fresh vine leaves, pale green and tender (even those from a decorative wall vine work well) this is an unforgettably delicious way of cooking sardines or any other small oily fish. The flesh takes on a smoky, lemony flavour from the leaves and the fire. As you peel off the leaf the fish is neatly skinned and ready to eat.
Rinse the sardines in cold water and dry them well on kitchen paper. Leave them whole and sprinkle with salt if you wish.
Wrap each fish in a leaf or two depending on size and place on a plate until the fire is ready for cooking. The best fire is made from vine prunings but the twigs of any fruit wood will give a delicious result.
Place a cooking grid over the hot embers of the fire and arrange the fish on top. Cook for 3–5 minutes turning them once. Serve straight away with bread and wine.
© 1987 Geraldene Holt. All rights reserved.