This salad was inspired by Native American tradition and Japanese fried food.
When I saw the luminescent skin of the Pacific jack mackerel, as if imprinted by ladders of coral and stamped by plumes of seaweed, I couldn’t resist buying them. Still mesmerized by the succulence of the smoked sardines, I decided to do a variation with the beautiful fish using wild fennel.
Wild fennel is beginning to reach its peak. While out harvesting fennel pollen, I stumbled into some of last year’s stalks, dried out to make room for the new, flowering growth. Once I got it home, I ripped it into small chunks resembling wood chips used for smoking. The wood has a subtle fennel sweetness and an earthy mushroom fragrance. Once incendiary, the greenish smoke emits an almost sweet, piney aroma. You can imagine how well this mixes with the saltiness of the juicy mackerel meat.
Only days after the summer solstice, on June 23, people all across Spain gather for La Noche de San Juan, St. John’s Eve. For those living near the sea, this is a vivacious event at the beach, a jubilant celebration of the summer to come, a time to clean one’s humanness of past debris.
In Galicia, the northwest Spanish province right above Portugal, the sands erupt in bonfires at night. People jump over them, symbolically passing into a new stage of life. Later, for many, a wash in the sea ensures a proper cleansing of corpa e alma, the body and soul.
There is dancing and music and, of course, lots and lots of eating. The typical and most popular dish is grilled sardines. Often, they are served alongside tapas and bread. So beloved is the sardine in Galicia during San Juan that La Voz de Galicia, a Galician newspaper, reporting on the market scarcity of sardines, said, “Without a doubt, tomorrow night it will reign at the barbecues.”