Learn about cooking with sardines, includes unique sardine recipes to share with your family and friends.
I was first introduced to the delights of sardine consumption on the bank of western Georgia's Yellow Jacket Creek. I was a towheaded lad of seven at the time, and I was accompanying my grandfather on a fishing expedition.
Grandpa — a farmer and self-educated draftsman — spent his summer evenings angling in the muddy "crick" for whatever would take the bait. And with his expert hand on the pole, all manner of unwary critters — from snapping turtles to speckled catfish — found their way to the family table.
I fished right alongside Grandpa with nowhere near the same amount of luck . . . and one evening I asked him why. "It's sardines, son," he said as he pulled a can from the paper sack of vitles that Granny had sent with us. Gramps peeled the container open with its attached key. Then he laid a few of the potent-smelling fish that it contained on a thick slab of heavily buttered homemade bread, rolled the bread up and handed it to me. "Always eat a few of these before you set out in pursuit of any piscatorial prey, and you'll smell so loud the fish'll think you're one of 'em."
Right then and there I swallowed the first of what must now be a million or more of the aromatic fingerlings. And that initial bite launched me on what you might call a "serious study of the sardine."
Did you know, for instance, that the name is most properly applied only to a particular small pilchard of the herring family? But that it's commonly used to designate any of several varieties of small saltwater pilchards, ale wives, herrings, sprats, etc., which have been caught and canned in olive, soy or fish oil . . . or — in some cases — even tomato, mustard or other exotic pastes? Or did you know that, in general, the tiniest (and most expensive) sardines are canned by foreign packers . . . while the larger (and less costly) ones are packed in Maine?
I tend, these days, to specialize in Maine sardines that I purchase for 20 cents a tin from a railroad salvage store. I also make it my business to steer clear of any of the little critters that are packed in mustard or tomato sauce, since the marinade kinda covers up the good, strong taste of the fish. And also because the soy oil that covers the sardines I buy is an important integral part of the recipes which follow.
Recipes? Yep. Sardine recipes. If you've only eaten your sardines "straight from the can," you don't know what you're missin'. The strongly flavored little fish can add a delightful change of pace to a wide variety of dishes. Here are three of my favorite sardine recipes to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. All are designed to feed two people, and all three can be doubled or tripled without difficulty.
In the recipes at the top of this article you have a bit of Japanese (Fried Sardines), French (Sardines on Toast) and Southeast Asian (Curried Sardines) influence on a little saltwater fish that I first discovered on the bank of Georgia's Yellow Jacket Creek.
Try all these "exotic" ideas and see if they can lead you to invent few of your own. Then, just for a reverse change of pace, remember my grandpa's secret "recipe" too: Take a few sardines "straight out of the can", roll 'em into a thick slice of freshly buttered homemade bread, grab up the pole and bait, and head out for the nearest river, pond or "crick". The sardines may not help your fishing luck, but you won't be sorry you took 'em along either.
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