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Grilled Sardines in a Spiced Roasted Tomato Sauce

* Canned sardines or pilchards in tomato sauce cooked with chalé sauce and served with rice or kenkey was an easy dish that my dad frequently rustled up when we were growing up and was one of the first dishes on my menu when I started putting on supper clubs – just the way Dad used to make it. I still serve this dish today but slightly updated with a couple of twists, using fresh sardines rather than canned and a roasted fresh tomato sauce. It’s just as simple and delicious.

½ red onion, sliced
4 large ripe tomatoes, quartered
2.5cm (1-inch) piece fresh
root ginger, grated (unpeeled
if organic)
1 garlic clove, chopped
½ teaspoon coarsely ground
black pepper
½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon extra-hot chilli
½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes
100ml (3½fl oz) good-quality
vegetable or chicken stock
½ tablespoon tomato puree
½ teaspoon sea salt, plus extra
to season
12 whole fresh sardines, scaled,
gutted and washed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
olive oil, for drizzling
ball of Ga kenkey (see Tip, page
112), to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas Mark 4. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Place all the ingredients except the sardines, lemon juice, oil and kenkey in a bowl and toss together. Spread out on the lined baking tray and roast for 25 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and place the sardines on top. Drizzle with the lemon juice and olive oil, and season with an extra pinch of sea salt. Return to the oven and cook for a further 15–20 minutes until the sardines are cooked through.

Meanwhile, prepare the kenkey. Add to a saucepan of boiling water, then reduce the heat slightly and leave to cook for 8–10 minutes or until you can easily insert a fork. Drain and transfer the kenkey to a board or plate. When cool enough to handle, remove the corn cob leaf wrapping, then slice into 8 discs – lots of steam will be released, so be careful.

To serve, lift the cooked sardines gently from the tray to keep them whole for presentation. Place 2 discs of kenkey in the centre of each plate, then ladle over a large spoonful of the roasted tomato sauce and carefully layer 3 sardines on top, making sure they remain intact. Serve with Crispy Fried Kale and a spoonful of Shito (Hot Pepper Sauce; below).

Shito Hot Pepper Sauce


500ml (18fl oz) rapeseed oil, or substitute sunflower
or vegetable oil, plus extra if required
3 red onions, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
8 guinea peppers, ground
7.5cm (3-inch) piece fresh root ginger, finely grated
(unpeeled if organic)
1 tablespoon chopped thyme or rosemary leaves
75g (2¾oz) green kpakpo shito chillies, finely diced
(with seeds!), or substitute green Scotch Bonnets,
if available, or 2 tablespoons dried chilli flakes
5–6 tablespoons tomato puree
100ml (3½oz) good-quality chicken stock
125g (4½oz) chilli powder
50g (1¾oz) dried ground prawn or shrimp powder
50g (1¾oz) crayfish or smoked fish powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt

Heat a heavy-based saucepan, then add the oil and fry the onions over a medium heat for 2–3 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic, guinea peppers, ginger, thyme or rosemary (if using) and chillies and fry together for a few minutes. Stir in the tomato purée and chicken stock until the mixture has formed a thick paste. Then pour in the chilli powder and continue cooking and stirring for a further 10 minutes. Finally, add the prawn and crayfish powders, then cook over a low heat for 30–40 minutes, stirring almost continuously to prevent the mixture sticking to the pan. The contents should transform from deep red to very dark brown and the oil will rise to the surface when the sauce is ready. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. You can choose to blend the sauce with a stick blender or leave it unblended for a coarser texture. Leave to cool, then spoon into sterilized jars. There should be plenty of oil on top of the sauce once it’s cooked, so make sure there is a layer about 1cm (½ inch) thick in each jar. But if there is not enough, pour in extra oil to cover. Seal the jars and store in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen is available here.