Tuesday, January 15, 2008

singing a song of sardines

A baby sardine saw her first submarine:
She was scared and looked through the peephole.

"Oh come, come, come," said the sardine's mum.

"It's only a tin full of people."

Silly songs aside, the sardine doesn't get much love in America. Probably even less than the beet, really. It's either confused with its brine-cured cousin, the anchovy, or dismissed as another entry in the category of Strong-Smelling Fish, along with pickled herring and smoked mackerel and the like. It probably gets mentioned more frequently by commuters in packed subway cars than it ever does in a culinary context.

This is, of course, a pity and a shame. Sardines are definitely not anchovies, and they're not a strong-smelling fish. Contrary to popular belief, you won't need to leave all the windows open or make an appointment to have the house fumigated after you've served up a meal of sardines. They don't smell much stronger than oil-packed tuna - in fact, fresh salmon fillets are probably more noticeably fishy than sardines. They're also not brine-cured like anchovies, so their flavor is assertive, but mild.

Though fresh sardines are spectacular, they're also a pain to find, so I usually make do with tinned.* Sardines on toast are a classic, but they can be put to more interesting uses, like the following spaghetti with garlic, lemon, and capers. It's quick, simple, and if you usually keep the ingredients on hand in the pantry, it's a good hot meal to prepare on short notice.

Sardine Spaghetti with Garlic, Lemon and Capers
Make sure your sardines are packed in olive oil (not soybean oil or tomato sauce), and that your capers are in vinegar and not brine.

(Serves one for two meals, plus leftovers)

Put a big pot of salted water on to boil. Meanwhile, open two tins of sardines in olive oil and dump their contents into a shallow baking pan. Use your fingers to gently split each sardine into fillets, and arrange them skin side up. Sprinkle with sea salt. Slide the pan under a broiler on high heat.

Zest and juice one large lemon, and mince four garlic cloves. Sprinkle the zest, the juice, and the minced garlic over the sardines; return to the broiler for another minute or so. Remove from the broiler, and add three or four teaspoons of capers in vinegar. Set aside.

(Warning: truly awful photo ahead. How much more proof do I need to offer of my incompetence with digital cameras?)

When the water has reached a rolling boil, add half a pound of spaghetti. Cook until al dente, then drain and toss with the sardines. Serve immediately. A salad of bitter greens makes a nice accompaniment.

*The Venetians make a wonderful dish called sarde in saor: fresh sardines, fried and marinated in vinegar with onions, pine nuts, and plump white raisins. Keep an eye out for them if you ever visit Venice - they're absolutely delicious.


Kat said...

Eh. Sardines don't do much for me, but I do LOVE a good beet. Just made beet salad last night, as a matter of fact. So tasty! You should try it. I found it at: wednesdaychef.typepad.com/the_wednesday_chef/2007/12/amanda-hessers.html

adele said...

Huh. That's a recipe I haven't seen before. Looks good. :)

Katy said...

I'm pretty sure I read in Bon Appetit that sardines are the new ingredient for trendy chefs to put on their menus! I will definitely have to give them another try!

Ann said...

We love sardines quick grilled on crusty bread. Will have to try this recipe!

charlene said...

Am eating this as I type, and it's very, very good: meaty, briny, and fresh all at once. Because my fridge needed emptying, I also included leftover brined green olives and fresh parsley, which I thought were in keeping with the spirit of the dish. Would definitely make this again.

adele said...

Dear heavens. I've convinced someone else to try this. I feel like this is cause for celebration. :)

Hilary said...

Sardines mostly make me think of Cannery Row, both one of my favorite books and an incredibly lovely place (Monterey Bay, California).

When I someday pay my tribute to Ed Ricketts by making a beer milkshake (a famous marine ecologist and one of the major characters in Cannery Row, who happens to like beer milkshakes) I will be sure to accompany it with some tasty sardines.

Diana said...

'Sarde in saor' sounds sooo good to me- and it also gives me the hilarious mental image of my mother fleeing in horror at the sight of a dish containing both sardines and pine nuts, which topped the list of things banned from my house as a kid. Beets were also on that list. I love all three things dearly.

RavenX248 said...

Hey that looks a lot like the venician recipe you mentioned!

Thetis said...

Thanks for the Sardine Song! It's just what I need for a fresh grilled sardine tasting tomorrow in Monterey. The sardine season this summer is huge!! It is hard to find them fresh even here next to cannery row. We are hoping to match the sardine come back with the enthusiasm of people to eat them. Almost every one goes overseas for long-line fishing, animal feed or canning. They are SO healthful - full of Omega3 ans low on the food chain.

adele said...

A fresh grilled sardine tasting? That sounds awesome. :) As much as I like canned sardines, I do wish fresh ones were more easily available.