Love sardines? Here's how to cook them
Tinned sardines are really having a moment, which is great because not only are they a delicious, shelf-stable, sustainable source of protein and omega-3s, but finding fresh fish right now is kind of a challenge. So you see the tinned sardines, you buy the tinned sardines. Now what?
Unlike anchovies (be still my heart), sardines have a much meatier texture (not as meaty as tuna, but close) and more intense, (dare I say, fishier) flavour. I like intense things, so that doesn’t bother me. In fact, I like it! But if you find yourself among the seafood-flavour averse, you might not ever love sardines, not even now.
Similarly to tuna, they come packed in either spring water or oil that’s sometimes flavored with things like lemon or peppers, and even smoked. Just like my sparkling water, I always go for unflavored, and prefer oil-packed to spring water. In almost every instance, the heads are removed, leaving the spines and tails intact: I eat both. The bones are very delicate, but I actually like their texture.
Regardless of how you’re going to consume them, there are a few good rules for how to best enjoy them. Sardines, very oily little fish, really love a lot of acid. It is hard to beat fresh lemon juice squeezed over them, but vinegar — white wine, rice wine or white distilled — is also good. To give you a sense of how much to use, I often douse them in my choice of acid, almost as if I were treating them like escabeche.
Despite their rich, fatty description, sardines also, perhaps counterintuitively, love more fat, which helps mellow out their flavour, so don’t hold back on the olive oil (meaning, when you think you’ve added enough, add a bit more). Or consider eating them with mayonnaise, aioli, softened butter or jammy eggs. This should go without saying, but they also love lots of fresh herbs and thinly sliced onions, scallions or chives.
A Few Ideas for Sardines
— Spread a smear of softened butter or aioli on thick-cut bread, toast or crackers. Top with sardines, raw onions tossed with lemon juice and whatever fresh herbs you have on hand. Squeeze with more lemon or a splash of vinegar, and sprinkle with flaky salt and ground pepper. Eat open-faced, or top with another piece of bread for a sandwich.
— Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan, and toast garlic until golden brown. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, the zest of one lemon (or, finely chop a half a lemon — seeds removed — and add that), some al dente pasta like spaghetti and a few splashes of pasta cooking water. Season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat in the garlicky oil. Add a few sardine fillets, and toss to coat, letting them fall apart slightly, but keeping large pieces intact. Finish with another good squeeze of lemon or splash of vinegar (or raisins soaked in vinegar, if you are a raisin person), and a handful of chopped parsley or chives.
— Place a few sardines on the bottom of a plate or bowl and top with an abundance of shaved vegetables like fennel or radish and assertively dressed, preferably peppery greens, a handful of crushed olives or capers and a halved jammy egg. Niçoise-y.
— Pluck them from the tin and dress with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar or white distilled vinegar, a finely chopped fresh or pickled chile or a pinch of red-pepper flakes. Eat over a bowl of warm rice with thinly sliced cucumbers.
The New York Times