This calls for fresh sardines, grilled and served piping hot. The Thai dressing cuts beautifully through the oiliness of the sardines, while the rice is a delicate foil.
1 cup of jasmine rice
11/2 cups of water
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 red chillies, chopped, seeds left in
1 thumb galangal
1 stick of lemon grass, outer skin removed, insides chopped
5 fresh curry leaves (optional)
1 small bunch of coriander, chopped
1tbsp palm sugar
11/2tbsp fish sauce
8 sardines, filleted
First, cook the rice. Rinse it quickly under cool running water and place in a saucepan, add a pinch of salt and cover with the water. Bring to a bubbling boil. Turn the heat immediately to low and cover with a tight-fitting lid. If you have a simmer mat, sit the rice on that and cook on the lowest heat for 20 minutes. Uncover and allow the steam to escape, then fluff to separate the rice with a fork.
While the rice is cooking, make the dressing. Place the garlic, chillies, galangal (available from Thai supermarkets), lemon grass, curry leaves and coriander in a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a rough paste; add the palm sugar (or use caster sugar if you can't find it) and continue to pound, than add the tamarind and fish sauce. The taste should be punchy but well-balanced, neither too hot, sour nor sweet. Set aside; this dressing is best eaten within a couple of hours of making.
Towards the end of the rice's cooking time, heat your grill to its highest setting. Lay the sardines skin-side up and cook without turning for two-and-a-half minutes or until the skin has begun to blister. Remove from grill. Divide the cooked rice among four bowls, lay the sardines on top and spoon over the dressing.