Sardines don't take long to cook, but pressure cookers come in handy when you need to prepare them in quantity. Sardines have undergone a resurgence in popularity, but you still don't find them market-fresh very often unless you live near the coast. You can't store sardines, so when you find them fresh, seize the moment. Buy as many as you can, invite some friends over and use a pressure cooker to cook them quickly. You can use the time you save to choose a crisp white wine to pair with them, and a night of simple pleasure will ensue.
Add a cup of water, stock, wine or a combination thereof to the pressure cooker. Pressure cookers need liquid to function, so use it as a chance to incorporate flavor. Sardines don't need anything complex, but a bit of wine or stock kicks their flavor up a bit.
Add herbs and spices to the liquid. Simple is better, so limit yourself to 1 or 2 fresh herbs and spices maximum.
Season the sardines inside and out with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stuff the sardines with a couple of thin lemon slices, if desired.
Add the sardines to the pressure cooker and place it on the stove. Set the heat to high.
Secure the lid on the pressure cooker when the liquid starts to boil. Watch the pressure valve on the lid as the steam inside builds, and lower the heat to medium when the valve stem reaches the 10-psi marking.
Cook the sardines for 3 to 5 minutes on low pressure. Use the low end of the time scale if cooking 4 or 5 sardines, and the high end if cooking 10 or more. Place the pressure cooker in the sink and run cold water over it.
Take the lid off the pressure cooker when it unlocks. Serve the sardines while hot and with a tomato sauce, if you made one.
- Use 1/2 cup of stock and a can of stewed tomatoes instead of 1 cup of liquid if you want to make a quick tomato sauce while the sardines cook. Sardines have traditionally been packed in tomato sauce for preservation and flavor. Although you don't have to worry about preserving the sardines when you use the pressure cooker, you can make a quick sauce while they cook.
- Cook fresh sardines as soon as possible after you catch or buy them. They have a very short storage life.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.