Stuffed sardines, sarde a beccafico in Sicilian dialect, is one of the most traditional and well-loved dishes in Sicily. Sardines are small, inexpensive and are commonly found off the coast of Sicily. For a long time, sardines were one of the main ingredients in the diet of the lower class, especially fishermen, who ate them quite often.
It should come as no surprise that many Sicilian recipes are based on sardines. In many cases, sardines were used as a substitute for more expensive fish, allowing the poor to recreate the dishes the noblemen were accustomed to eating. This recipe for stuffed sardines is actual the poor man’s version of a much more noble meat dish.
Beccafico is the name of a small bird with very flavorful meat that consumes figs during the summertime, becoming quite plump. Noble Sicilians would catch and eat these birds, stuffed with their innards. They said that their meat was nice and tender so they were eating them with all the guts.
This dish was obviously out of range of the poorer population who tried to recreate the dish with other ingredients. The small birds were substituted with less-expensive sardines and were stuffed with breadcrumbs rather than innards. . During assembly, the tail of the fish is twisted upward in imitation of the bird’s tail. The Sicilian name of the plate recall the bird: sarde a beccafico (beccafico literally means beak figs) Sicilian stuffed sardines became very popular in Sicily and are now considered an important part of the island’s cuisine.
As always, there are a number of variations on this dish. Some cooks add diced caciocavallo cheese to the stuffing and the stuffed sardines are dipped in flour and fried instead of baked. Others soak the currants or raisins in Marsala wine or add saffron to the filling.