Stuffed pilchards with capers and lemon

Serves 4

This makes a lovely starter, main or a light lunch dish. The crumbs soak up the oils from the fish as it's cooking and bring out all of the aromas of the herbs. You can use pilchards, sardines, mackerel or even herrings for this; just get your fishmonger to butterfly your fish, or you could do it yourself if you are a dab hand with a knife, ensuring you remove as many of the larger bones as possible. You can use green herbs like chives, parsley, chervil and small amounts of thyme and tarragon which won't overwhelm the flavours.

8 pilchards or sardines, butterflied
A little olive or corn oil for frying
A little flour for dusting
2-3tbsp capers, rinsed
The juice of 1 lemon
100g butter or olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the stuffing

2 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A couple of knobs of butter
50g fresh white or sourdough breadcrumbs
2-3tbsp chopped green herbs (see above)

To make the stuffing, melt the butter in a saucepan and gently cook the shallots and garlic for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat then stir in the breadcrumbs and herbs; season. Lay the pilchards on a board, skin side down and spoon as much stuffing down the centre as you can; fold them over and flatten slightly.

Heat some oil in a non-stick or reliable frying pan, season and lightly flour the pilchards and fry them on a medium heat for 2-4 minutes on each side (you may need to cook these in a few batches). Once cooked, melt the butter in another pan until it begins to foam, then add the capers and lemon juice. Serve on warmed plates with the caper butter spooned over.

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