RUFFIN IT: A SUMMER TREAT WORTH CONSIDERING
You know how it is when the Dawg Days of deep summer have set in and it’s hot as the hinges of hell, the birds don’t want to fly, and the dull-eyed squirrels are bushy-tailed in the literal sense only? Even though you’re starving, you don’t want to fire up the grill or heat up the kitchen, so you try to decide what might be nice for a summer lunch.
A tomato sandwich would suffice, but the bread left in the bag on top of the microwave has only the bookends in it, stiff as leather. No lettuce in the house for a regular salad or BLT, even if you had the bread. A tuna salad would work, but it’s too hot to fool with boiling eggs, and there’s no lettuce or bread, so you’d have to eat it straight. What to do, what to do?
You are about to find out what.
The idea for this light summer meal came from my days in the waters of the Gulf off Mississippi. I married into a fairly large fishing boat and got to do lots of fishing (and some shrimp trawling) with my father-in-law. For over thirty years my wife and I spent several weeks a year over there with the inlaws. (I divorced out of the boat a few years ago.)
When we fished the Gulf, it was typically an all-day affair, which meant that we had to carry sufficient provisions with us to sustain us until supper, which would not come until the fish were processed and the boat was clean. And what we carried to eat needed to be simple and quick to prepare and require little cleaning up afterwards. Spam, canned tuna and salmon, sardines, kipper snacks, sandwiches—these were the usual fare. And we almost always carried an onion for slicing and eating with crackers.
What I am proposing here is a modified Mississippi Gulf lunch, designed to be quick and tasty and filling and requiring little more in the way of cleaning up than stashing some sardine cans and bottles and paper plates. And you don’t have to worry about a fish making a reel scream just as you’re getting ready to take a bite.
The focal point of this surf-and-turf dish is a can of sardines, preferably two-layer brislings packed in olive oil. (These days I buy them by the case from Amazon.) If we didn’t catch a fish the entire day, we could always boast about having had them for lunch. They have a peel-tab top, easily opened, and the little flat can is fine to leave them lying in until you scoop them out to eat.
You must also have crackers (Club or saltines), some strips of Extra-Sharp Cheddar, strips of onion (red or white or yellow), and a container of mayonnaise (which needs, of course, to be kept in the fish box or refrigerator after opening). Beer is the final ingredient, any kind you like.
Here’s how you go about it:
You gotta be outside, and it needs to be hot enough that the beer becomes as important as the sardines. One reason you have to be outside is that your wife—and kids, if you still have any hanging around—are going to gripe about the smell of sardines. I know that there are women and kids out there somewhere in the vast dimensions of this country who like both the taste and smell of sardines, but the only place I’ve observed this phenomenon was in European countries bordering the North Atlantic or Mediterranean. Likewise, I’ve never met a cat who wouldn’t be willing to fight you to death over your sardines, and this is where the onions really come in: You can lay on a table or bench in the back yard an open can of sardines with a mine field of slices of onion around it, and no cat will go near it.
OK: You’re outside and it’s hot, and you have your ingredients together. Now cometh the glorious process of building your tasty little treats and scarfing them.
Take a cracker—Clubs are more suitably shaped for this enterprise—and smear it with a bit of mayonnaise mortar, lay on a strip of cheese and press it into the mayonnaise. Now extract from its olive oil bath a sardine and arrange it on top of the cheese, no matter which direction it’s pointing, since it’ll go down nicely in either direction.
Finally, take a slice of the onion and drape it over the whole shebang, look around you to make certain no one is watching, and then shove it into your mouth and let your molars do the rest. Chase each one with a minimum of two slugs of beer.
This recipe will take care of your hunger and cool you off, and your taste buds will be quarreling over which ingredient tastes the best. Finally, it is not likely that you’ll end up having to share this meal with anyone in the immediate household.
So there you have it: one of the cheapest and tastiest summer snacks you are ever likely to encounter.