January 26, 2010

The Case for Sardines


Oh, believe me, I know what you’re thinking. Even the very word seems a little unappetizing. Sar-deeeens. Poor guys, they just don’t have the best PR in the world (or, as I gather, on this side of the pond), and it’s a shame, really. Because if you can get past your initial feelings, you might find that this inexpensive fish — high in protein, iron, calcium and all important omega-3 fatty acids — rather suits you. Or you may be like my friend who, when asked to join me at home for a sardine sandwich after an exceedingly pleasant morning spent writing side-by-side in a coffee shop, could not run away quite fast enough muttering something about ravioli in her freezer. I suppose they’re not for everyone, but all I’m asking is that you try. Where would you be if you had listened to the prevailing sentiments on liver or brussels sprouts? SOL, is where.

I used to splurge on a $9 sandwich that made me feel rather posh in the middle of the workday: marinated anchovies, soft-boiled egg, frisée and country bread. (I belong to the club, by the way, that likes just about anything topped with frisée and an egg). When I saw a recipe for this sardine sandwich in a recent issue of O, I thought it might be able to stand in for that beloved midtown lunch now that I am a work-at-home kind of gal. (Which really, presents a whole slew of problems that we should discuss at a later date, namely, what do you wear that makes you feel 1) not like a schlump in her pajamas at noon but 2) not like an idiot wearing a pencil skirt and blazer in her living room. I have resorted to looking at mommy blogs for guidance on this front, but am more than open to your expertise. End of digression.)

This sandwich was everything I wanted it to be: hearty, healthy, and full of flavor. The exact kind of lunch you want to have when you’ll be too busy to stop for a snack at 4pm; this is the sandwich that sees you straight through to dinner. I also surprised myself at how un-fishy I thought the sardines were. If you can handle canned tuna, you can certainly handle this.

And, last but not least, I was able to make good on my promise to Dayna and investigate some other recipes using sardines. Here are six elegant-sounding recipes that star our beleaguered fish friend:

Sardine Sandwich
adapted from O Magazine
Serves 2

1 tin (3.75 ounces each) boneless, skinless sardines packed in olive oil
1 tablespoon canola oil mayonnaise , or more to taste
2 tablespoons drained and finely chopped cornichons
4 slices whole grain bread, toasted
1/2 avocado, sliced
lettuce (frisée, if you’re so lucky)
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced (optional)

Remove sardines from tin, draining oil. Transfer to a small bowl, and combine with mayonnaise and cornichons. Lay out 2 slices of bread. Top each with avocado, sardine mixture, lettuce, and egg (if using). Salt and pepper to taste; finish each sandwich with a slice of bread.

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  • Jeni: Okay I have to admit, sardines do scare me. I did however recently have them in a delicious pasta dish, and with your recommendation, I just might be persuaded to try them. So thank you for helping a girl branch out!6 years ago

  • They’re a little scary. It’s true. But if you’ve already had them in delicious pasta, you’re more than halfway there, Jeni! You can do it! :)6 years ago

  • Lynette Cornell: My beloved boyfriend will eat just about anything other than butternut squash. He gave sardines a couple tries this past year in a variety of different ways and reported to me that sardines were just plain awful. So, if he doesn’t like them, I hesitate to give them a shot since just the smell of the little fishies is enough to send me running.

    Perhaps, it is the type of sardines that matters? What brand did you find to be appealing to your palate?6 years ago

  • Lauren @ Eater not a runner: I LOVE sardines, that looks delicious!6 years ago

  • KBG in DC: Re: what to wear working at home. I know it’s a digression, but I thought I’d chime in on this one since “Sardines – it’s what’s for dinner!” is going to be a hard sell in my house.

    I always think Carolina Herrera has the right idea: a crisp white blouse with everything. Seems to me that if you put one on top of jeans, khakis, fatigues, broomstick skirts, or yes, even pajama bottoms and pair it with pearls, you’ll be fit to go just about anywhere. Even if the farthest you’re going is down the hallway to your home office.6 years ago

  • Lynette, Hmm…what brand did I buy? I can’t remember, but knowing me, probably the cheapest kind.

    Lauren, I can tell this is a divisive topic! Glad to hear from someone on the other side of the debate. :)

    KBG, She always looks the chicest, very polished. Looks like it’s time for me to look for some crisp white shirts…6 years ago

  • Nathalie: Hi Sarah. Sardine sandwiches are so good. A nice variation is to use creme fraiche (full fat or light). Mackerel is great too I must say.6 years ago

  • Kristina: Oh, yes. Sardines were what I lived on for a month in the Greek isles, schlepping around like a starry-eyed tourist with my best friend, and limiting myself to E15 a day in food expenses. A can of sardines and a loaf of olive bread was my lunch almost every day. Love the recipe; I’ll have to try it soon!6 years ago

  • Nathalie, Mmm. Yes, I could see creme fraiche being a very nice variation, indeed. What doesn’t creme fraiche make better? What else do you use mackerel in? A recipe search didn’t yield much, I must say.

    Kristina, That sounds utterly marvelous.6 years ago

  • Sarah F: Are there any that come boneless/faceless? I don’t think the idea of sardines grosses me out so much as having to look at little fish faces while I’m eating.6 years ago

  • Sarah F, Yes, most definitely! In fact, I think most canned varieties are headless, and it’s easy enough to grab the cans that say boneless and skinless, too.

    You know when you order fish at a restaurant and it comes with the head still on it? That’s always kind of surprise.6 years ago

  • Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday: I wonder if this would be as delicious without the mayonnaise? Like, just sardines instead of sardine salad.6 years ago

  • Paula: I love Sardines – Andrew Weil suggests eating them 3x’s a week for the Omega 3’s. Looking forward to trying your recipe’s. BTW – Anchovies are amazing in Spaghetti sauce, adds a depth of flavor you wouldn’t expect!6 years ago

  • Jonny Hamchi: Welcome to the Society.6 years ago

  • Now I just need to touch base with the Frisée Society people and I’m all set.6 years ago

  • Sara Rose: I LOVE SARDINES. Deeply. Many days, I enjoy a lunch of a tin of sardines, some wasas, some arugula and a squoosh of lemon, so this sandwich looks marvy.

    I always use sardines and anchovies in any tomato sauce. Seriously. Last week, my MIL who ‘hates fish’, ‘can’t eat fish without barfing’, ‘sure she’d die from eating fish’ begged me for my pasta arrabiatta recipe.

    I demurred, saying ‘family secret!” until she was practically on her knees begging for it. Then I hit her with “Are you sure? Because everytime you have eaten spaghetti or lasagna of any kind at my house, it’s been chock full of sardines and anchovies! You really want my recipe?”

    Her jaw and chins dropped through the floor boards in shock. As for stay at home wear when I’m NOT in pjs or sweats? Cozy sweaters over trouser jeans and mocassins. Yup.6 years ago

  • Dayna: You don’t waste any time, lady! Thanks for the post. Coincidentally, just last night I opened the can of sardines that had been gathering dust in my pantry. They were in olive oil with some olives and spices. I dumped the whole thing into some pasta along with a mountain of parmesan cheese. So good! (But then, what doesn’t taste good with mountain of parmesan cheese stirred in, right?) Looking forward to expanding my sardine horizons with these recipes.

    (By the way, I’m a wardrobe-challenged work-from-homer, too. Overall, I think my wardrobe is improving because I can buy clothes I actually like rather than requisite biz casualwear. I steer clear of anything resembling PJs for the sake of preserving my own self esteem.)6 years ago

  • Sara Rose, Sometimes what people don’t know won’t hurt them. Anchovies are so good in pasta sauce, I think, because they totally melt into the oil/butter and then just leave behind this robust saltiness. Do you think your MIL will ever make the recipe? Too hysterical.

    Dayna, I like to give ’em what they want! :) And I totally agree with you about the clothes. It’s really nice to feel like you can start building a wardrobe of things you really love rather than investing in “a power suit” (blech).6 years ago

  • Miss Petite Treat: My mom, who eats 15 fruits and vegetables and drinks one gallon of water each day, religiously eats a can of sardines with tapatio hot sauce as part of her breakfast. She’s always praised the health benefits of sardines, but that combo has never tempted me…Your post has made me rethink the sardine! Thanks, Sarah!6 years ago

  • Kim: I would like to point out that the ravioli was fresh not frozen, and very good. Maybe next time a sardine sandwich comes up in conversation I shan’t be so quick to dismiss it.6 years ago

  • Rae: OMG and shut the front door! I literally just finished my first can of sardines ever, and I was logging into POP to ask if anyone else had seen this:


    I can’t believe this, seriously, my kitchen still smells like sea world. But I did enjoy them, and I did eat them out of the can with chopsticks a la Alton Brown. I felt mighty bohemian and it felt good. We are all so in sync.6 years ago

  • lindsey clare: you know, i’ve been wanting to love sardines for a while. and mackerel. ever since i read that they are a good, sustainable source of omega-3s. and this sandwich just sounds delicious. i’m definitely going to pick up a tin next time i do grocery shopping!

    p.s. i am a new, but ardent, fan of your blog. hooray for finding new lovely blogs that inspire me!6 years ago

  • Sara Rose: BTW, I’m totally stealing your recipe and putting it up on my blog with kudos to you. I NEED THIS SANDWICH. I was almost bummed I made kick ass soup for dinner tonite when I saw this post. Then I ate my soup. And decided to eat this sandwich tomorrow! Check the blog latahzzz.6 years ago

  • Miss Petite Treat, Is your mom Andrew Weil? In any case, she is a paragon of good eating! (And of strength and mental fortitude if she can eat sardines at breakfast!) She sounds like a pretty cool lady.

    Kim, I knew you were going to come after me for that! And you didn’t mumble, either. It was just creative license. Forgive me. :)

    Rae, I’m so glad I watched that because I had no idea brislings were different than just plain old sardines. Apparently they are “lightly smoked” and “herring-like.” Who knew? I’m still laughing at your “Sea World” comment.

    Lindsey Clare, The sustainable (and cheap) omega 3’s is what hooked me too — great minds! And here’s to new and ardent fans! Aren’t these commenters just the best bunch? Don’t you just wish we served drinks in here?

    Sara Rose, I hope you like the sandwich! And I’m glad the Broke Ass Soup was delish. That’s one of the best things about soup — you can make them with water and little else and they really can be so sustaining, comforting and delicious.6 years ago

  • Karen: Sardines…. brings me back to childhood. My dad loved them and we would share a can now and then. I will have to give them a try again!6 years ago

  • laura: Crazy! I just looked up a recipe for sardines with pasta yesterday!! They’ve been on my mind lately (a former house guest left a tin in my fridge and I’ve been eying it curiously for months.) This is just the push I needed to venture outside my culinary safety zone, thanks.

    My winter work-from-home uniform is a classic wool cardigan (Benneton, crewneck, form-fitting not baggy, in black, navy or dark brown) with a T shirt underneath, well-worn jeans and cashmere socks. I throw on a vintage broach (centered over one of the buttons) when I need a pick me up.6 years ago

  • Leah: I owe childhood sardine lunches to my fearless eating as an adult. I remember taking great pleasure in completely horrifying my second grade classmates by consuming sardines in the cafeteria… Thanks, Mom.6 years ago

  • Karen, My dad loves them, too! Maybe they’re a dad thing…

    Laura, Your work from home outfit sounds simple and smashing and something utterly doable for me (especially the vintage brooch part — i’ve got more than I can shake a stick at).

    Leah, That’s hilarious. Yeah, I used to take yogurts which would be warm and a little, um, off by the time I had lunch, so I hear you.

    I had no idea this post would inspire such an outpouring! I love all the sardine stories.6 years ago

  • rachel: I ate a lot of (headless) sardines packed in mustard (I’d pick the spine out) as a child. Not really sure why but never thought it was weird at all. Haven’t had them in years though.6 years ago

  • Shandell's: I grew up with King Oscar Sardines always in the cupboard. My new found love are Cole’s Sardines. They come 5 different ways, all caught by local fisherman.
    I cannot wait to try this recipe. PJ’s sounds great for some days, I set up an office in my house and stayed home one day this week until noon in my PJ’s. Got to love the flexibility that our lives give us.6 years ago

  • Marilyn: Sardines are just amazing and under appreciated. We’re able to get them fresh at the wharf in Monterey for $1.00 a pound. Cleaned and grilled they make an elegant and cheap appetizer. Add some frisee dressed with lemon vinaigrette & some crusty bread for a light meal.6 years ago

  • Ginger: Marilyn-
    Are you talking Monterey, CA? I’m moving there in a few weeks… can you tell me a little about it? I’m dying to “meet” a cool person who can tell me a bit about the city. I know nothing!6 years ago

  • Nathalie: I sometimes crumble them in salads, instead of tuna. You can also use them in a tomato sauce for pasta. I saw a recipe incorporating them in a savoury loaf cake – I haven’t tried it but I’d say it could be quite nice. Or as a topping for a savoury tart with creme fraiche/tomato sauce, why not? Or within a puff pastry pocket?6 years ago

  • Jill: Okay, I LOVE sardines but my kids say I`m eating cat food when I open them and my husband told me recently that I have terrible breath after eating them (and I don`t think he means just after eating them). So…I decided not to eat them anymore. At least not until my husband takes the boys camping for a week. Maybe then.6 years ago

  • Erin: My husband got me to try a sardine recipe that Alton Brown of Good Eats created. It made me a little squimish at first (he used sardines with skin and bones), but the flavor of the sandwich was so yummy that all squimishness went away. If I were to make it again (which I intend to) I would make a guacamole salsa mixture of avocado, tomatoes, green onions, lemon/lime juice, and cilantro. I happened to have a little bit left over from a previous meal and added it to my toast to try it. YUM! I think it would be just as good with sliced tomato and green onions on it too. The ink to the recipe is below. :)

    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/sherried-sardine-toast-recipe/index.html5 years ago

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  • 5 Things Tuesday: Healthy Lunch Box Ideas ! | My Fit Station: […] 5) Sardine Sandwich […]2 years ago

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That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.
- Henry David Thoreau