Recipe from Senior at Large in a Sicilian Kitchen
Stuffed sardines, the poor man’s version of cucina baronale, are found all over Sicily. Lots of variations of course, but this is Sarde a Beccafico Palermitani. It was served as antipasti but could easily have been used as a main dish (secondo)
Beccafico (something like ‘fig beak’)is a small, plump bird which dines on figs all Summer. The Sicilian nobility would eat these birds complete with all the figgy guts.
This dish was a favourite of Maria Carolina, the wife of King Ferdinand of the Two Sicilies. Well used to the good life, she imported French chefs to the royal court in Palermo in 1805. These chefs, known as Monsú, a corruption of the word monsieur, produced magnificent over-the-top meals, quintessential baroque opulence expressed in sophisticated presentations. The good life indeed.
The peasants were banned from eating birds destined for the Queen’s table, so they recreated the dish for themselves with sardines and stuffed them with breadcrumbs rather than innards. They filled their specialities with spices, lemon juice, pine nuts and raisins. During assembly, the tail of the fish is twisted upward in imitation of the bird’s tail. The Sicilian name of the plate recalls the bird: sarde a beccafico.