From A., 8 February 2011, sardines – getting to know them.
Q: Hey friend. I think I remember that you love sardines. I’ve never tried them and would like to, but am intimidated. What do I do with them? Do I need to remove the bones? Do I eat the whole thing, or leave the tail like a shrimp? Any recommendations for what to look for when buying them?
A: Hey friend! Thanks for your question.
You have a good memory – I do love sardines. In fact, I always keep a few tins in a drawer in my office, in case I get hungry. I’m excited that you want to try them.
In my opinion, the best canned sardines come from Matiz Gallego, Angelo Parodi, and Bela-Olhão, but most of the Portuguese and Spanish brands are good. Bela-Olhão and Angelo Parodi should be available at Whole Foods. Portugal in particular has a long tradition of sardine fishing, and in fact, on June 13 every year, the Portuguese celebrate the Festa da Santo António – the Feast of St Anthony – with sardinhas assadas, sardines brushed with olive oil, grilled over coals, and seasoned with sea salt and lemon. The Portuguese have been fishing for sardines for years and although the fresh catch is a popular summertime snack or light meal, most sardines are tinned, packed in oil or other sauces. So when it comes to sardines, you have good reason to trust Portuguese product.
As with most tinned fish, if it’s in the can, you can eat it. The head and tail aren’t part of the deal – the head is too small to yield anything edible, and the tail and fins aren’t edible, so they’re removed before processing. If the bones remain in the sardine, they’ll have been softened up so much you can just eat them. And you should – they’re a great source of calcium. The sardine itself is meaty and rich, being a fatty fish. As with lots of rich, fatty, meaty things, it tastes great with vinegar, lemon, sharp mustard, or the acidity of tomatoes.
At the bar at Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton famously serves sardines with Dijon mustard on Triscuits. There’s a reason they’re so popular – they’re really good. So if you’re worried about whether you’ll like sardines, lift a couple out of the tin, smash coarsely with a fork, spread some Dijon mustard on a Triscuit (or whatever woven wheat cracker), and top with a forkful of sardine. If you have them, cornichons are great with this combination; if you don’t have them, try another pickle or a few dashes of red wine vinegar in the sardines.
Once you’ve had them with mustard, try them with these other combinations:
* Mayonnaise, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and a good few dashes of hot sauce (Tabasco, Sriracha), buttered toast points
* Mashed with a little red wine vinegar, slice of hard-boiled egg, watercress, cocktail rye or pumpernickel
* Mashed with cream cheese, a few dashes of sherry vinegar, bagel chip
* Mayonnaise, pimentón, sherry vinegar
* Lots of lemon juice, black pepper, arugula
* Lemon juice, shaved fennel, fennel pollen
You can cook them and toss with pasta as well, but in my opinion, heating tends to accentuate the fishiness of the sardine. Write back and let me know how it goes!