A question about sardines
I remember my dad cracking open a tin of sardines or herring, grinning with anticipation: For him, tinned fish was a special treat that I could not understand. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense, really, because I’ve always loved canned tuna. To this day I will happily eat it in tuna casserole, tuna sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, salad. I’ll add it to anything, really. But sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring: these things have always made me squeamish. In the interest of getting over my food prejudices, though, I decided a few weeks ago to give canned sardines a try. I picked up a tin at the Bi-Rite market, and it sat in the cupboard, pressuring me daily to give it a chance. But how?
I thought about eating a few sardines with avocado on toast, a la Alton Brown. But I worried that the mildness of the avocado wouldn’t do enough to mask the maybe-too-briny taste of sardines, if I didn’t like them. I worried that I would have to choke it down, and I just didn’t want to waste an avocado like that.
I thought about mixing them into mac and cheese, using them the way I often use tuna. But macaroni and cheese seemed like the last thing I wanted to eat after coming home from Dallas, when I was feeling the need to be extra health conscious.
Finally one night, when I was throwing together a dinner largely composed of various leftovers, I decided to add the sardines to the mix. I figured there were enough other things going on that the sardines wouldn’t overpower the dish, and would perhaps just add a nice, salty, fishy punch. Unfortunately, I think there were too many other things going on.
In theory, I think this dinner idea might work quite nicely: I sauteed some perfect little cherry tomatoes with leftover caramelized onions, a bit of garlic, and the chopped sardines. I stirred in leftover cilantro pesto, and served it with pasta.
What I got was an oddly textured mish-mash of flavors, with some unexpected crunchy bits dispersed throughout (sardine bones?). It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever cooked. I still felt ill at ease about the sardines. This just didn’t work.
I want to give sardines another chance: It seems wrong to permanently write off a sustainable, inexpensive fish like this, especially when I know I should eat less tuna, what with the mercury and all. I think I should go ahead and make that macaroni and cheese, and perhaps give Alton’s avocado sandwich a try. In truth, avocados can improve pretty much anything, right?
But I want your advice, sardine eaters. What is your favorite way to enjoy them? Should I try to remove any bones before eating? Are there particular brands that you use and love? Do you have a good recipe? Should I just embrace the fishiness, instead of trying to mask it? What is the best way for me to make friends with the sardines?