devilled sardines

1950s Devilled Sardines and Tomato Charlotte

devilled sardinesAs the entire world is now aware, I’ve got some food issues that make me feel very unwell at times. At home this is usually treated by undoing my top button and drinking cup after cup of peppermint tea.

But that doesn’t work in public so well and I rely on a variety of indigestion remedies so when Rennie got in touch with me about doing a blogger promotion I thought they knew about my habit of keeping boxes of them in each handbag and were going to give me a year’s supply!

Turns out they wanted to celebrate 70 years of soothing upset stomaches by cooking food from each of those decades and would I care to do something 50s based? Luckily the 50s pre-date garlic coming to the UK so I was in on this one.

Rummaging in my cookbook collection I found two pamphlets from the Ministry of Food from the post war rationing era and since rationing of butter and meat didn’t end until between 1952 and 1954 decided they might inspire.

I wanted to make a main meal so was delighted when two dishes caught my eye: devilled sardines and a tomato charlotte. I’ve only really heard of devilled things in relation to kidneys and they’ve never really appealed so this was my moment to branch out.

Fresh (or tinned) sardines were basted in a mix of sugar, mustard and vinegar and poached lightly while the tomato charlotte used stale bread and fresh tomatoes to make an easy economical side dish. The theory was great but would the food be as awful as people always say about the 50s?

Tomato Charlotte (serves 2)

  • 4 large tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or thyme
  • 2 slices stale bread, cubed
  • 50g breadcrumbs
  • 15g cold butter, cubed

I’ve given this recipe first as it can do its thing while you get the sardines ready. Slice the tomatoes about the thickness of a pound coin and drizzle with the olive oil (which isn’t at all 50s as you could only buy it in the chemists then) and season well with salt, pepper and the dried herbs. Allow to sit for 20 minutes.

Grease an ovenproof dish and layer with some sliced tomatoes. Put a layer of cubed stale bread on top. Add another layer of tomatoes. Repeat until the dish is full. Pour any liquid from the tomatoes over it all.

Mix the breadcrumbs (mine were panko but I suspect a 50s housewife made her own) with the cold butter and pile on top of the dish til the top layer of tomatoes are hidden. Bake for 25-30 minutes in a 180℃ oven.

Devilled Sardines (serves 2)

  • 8 fresh sardines, filleted or 2 tins in spring water
  • 2 tablespoons mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 75ml water

I am lucky enough to have a fishmonger so I asked for my sardines to be filleted, but if you can only get whole cleaned ones, make sure to scrape the scales off, brush inside and out with the devilled mix and simply cook for 5 minutes longer.

Don’t panic at the amount of mustard specified here. It isn’t a typo honestly. Mix the dry ingredients with the vinegar to make a paste and brush it over the flesh side of the sardine fillets and roll them starting at the tail end.

Place each fillet in a saute pan which has a lid and brush the skin with any remaining mixture. Add the water to the pan and put the lid on and cook for 5-6 minutes on a medium heat.

If using tinned sardines, brush each side with the devilling mixture and grill for 2-3 minutes until the fish is hot and slightly crisping round the edges.

Serve the sardines with the tomato charlotte and some boiled potatoes. Mine were tossed with crushed capers, butter and a bit of lemon juice which is a bit edgier than the average 50s dinner table probably but nothing they hadn’t heard of at least.

Then I got stuck in and hoped for the best. And needn’t have worried because both dishes were absolutely delicious. The sardines had much more going on than just mustard and the charlotte turned some fairly meh tomatoes into something so good I ate enough for two people.

Ironically despite pigging out, I didn’t need any of my packets of Rennie at all…

vintage fish cookbook*This post has been supported by Rennie, but all thoughts are my own.

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1 reply
  1. aliciafoodycat
    aliciafoodycat says:

    That charlotte sounds like such a good side dish! I think the difference between British food of the 50s and American food of the 50s is there wasn’t *quite* so much processed shit yet. I think the cans and powders and jellies really take hold at the end of the decade, giving food a bad reputation.

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