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Please help me like Sardines!

I"m reading the April issue of Eating Well (with the avocado on the cover) and I'm reminded once again how economical and healthy, as well as sustainably fished, sardines are.

I can't stand canned anchovies...how can I like sardines? Are they available canned in a less strongly flavored/less oily way? How do you cook them fresh? Any ideas?


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  1. If you live in a fancy enough metropolis, you might find salt-packed sardines, which I hear are very fine. I happened to see Alton Brown's show recently and this unusual recipe using the canned variety. It's a sardine-avocado open-faced sandwich, way heart healthy and light:

    1 (3.75-oz) tin sardines in water
    1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
    1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
    1 teaspoon vegetable oil
    1/2 lemon
    Kosher salt
    Freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 ripe medium avocado
    2 slices whole wheat bread

    1) Drain the sardines, reserving 1 tablespoon of sardine water. Zest the lemon, but reserve the fruit itself for later. Toast the bread.

    2) In a small bowl combine sardines, reserved sardine water, parsley, vinegar, vegetable oil, lemon zest, a little salt, and a little pepper. Mash the sardines with a fork until you have a fairly chunky spread.

    3) In a separate small bowl or on a small plate, mash the avocado with a fork until it becomes a fairly chunky spread.

    4) Spread the sardine mixture on the pieces of bread. Spread each with avocado. Top with a little salt, a little pepper, and a good squeeze of the lemon. Serve.

    1. Sardines are far milder than anchovies, and you can get them in pepper sauce or mustard sauce, if you prefer that to oil.

      I prefer boneless/skinless sards deposited on saltines and then tabbed with spicy, brown mustard. A cheap, delicious delight.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Perilagu Khan

        PK is right...but they also come in tomato sauce...Vigo brand from Spain are pretty good and I can find them at Wal-Mart and Publix, so Madrid, I see you live in the Boston area, right? You can probably find them in tomato sauce...I believe King Oscar brand also sells them in tomato sauce. Also, just try one can, whatever flavor...mustard, pepper or tomato, etc., -- you just might like them. From your post, it sounds like you've never tried them?

      2. I am a recent sardine convert, as I was bowled over by Alton Brown's recent diet show and his sardine praises. I have discovered I have (marginally) high levels of glucose and triglycerides, so I bought a treadmill AND I'm totally changing my diet, including adding at least a can of sardines, a week.

        Now, I managed to live 54 years without EVER facing down a can of the little wigglers, so it took a bit of courage to eat that first can, but now--aside from the drawbacks of a bit of burpy, fishy afterbreath <g>--I love them, already!

        I live in a rural, not foodie area, and so I have to confess that I patronize Walmart for my King Oscars (see the Jan. issue of Saveur for these, ranked among the top 100 foodie things) but the brislings (get the brislings; they're daintier and milder, and thus a more gentle introduction) in olive oil are only $2.39 a can, there. I now buy them ten at a time.

        I've tried the suggested avocado sandwich and it IS good. But when I'm in a hurry, I just eat them with low fat Triscuits (just whole wheat, salt and soybean oil; not bad for my local boring grocery store) and a dash of hot sauce (I like Tennessee Sunshine; hubby eats straight Tabasco).

        3 Replies
        1. re: Beckyleach

          I'm not crazy about canned sardines, but I do enjoy them fresh. In Portugal, they are eaten grilled over the charcoal, simply seasoned with kosher salt and served with roasted pepper and boiled potatoes. Though very simple, I believe it's the best way to enjoy the taste of sardines, specially with some extra olive oil. The best sardines are the ones caught in the months of June/July, which are fattier.
          Also, If you enjoy japanese cuisine, you might find quite a few recipes that make use of sardines and mackerel.
          Cheers! :-)

          1. re: alexzeevy

            Trust me: I'd eat a fresh sardine if I could...but in rural NW Iowa, they'd be tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail, should they ever dare to show their little fishy selves at any grocery store. Alas...

            1. re: alexzeevy

              Hear, hear! I enjoyed my first and only plate of fresh grilled sardines in the summer of 1982 at a little cafe in Lisbon. Right off the grill, dressed with some garlic oil, with crispy pommes frites, green salad and a bottle of vinho verde. Heavenly.

              As for the canned, I find the skinless to be my preference.


          2. I like sardines either way. Crown Prince boneless skinless packed in olive oil are much milder than the 'skin on' variety. I really like them and highly recommend them if you don't prefer 'skin on/bone in' variety which, depending on brand can be very 'fishy'. I've also heard that the 'skin on/bone in' is nutritionally better for you. Again, if I do buy the skin on/bone in it's also Crown Prince. Their 'brisling' sardines don't seem as fishy as other brands I've tried. Definately stay away from Beach Cliff brand if you don't like 'fishy'. Also as far as anchovy goes...From what I've read the 'white anchovy' variety is supposed to be milder that other varieties.

              1. I like sardines from time to time. I will fish the little fishes out of the oil that they come packed in and place them in a small bowl. Next, I'll add finely chopped onion ( I prefer white for this), yellow mustard, and Tapatio picante sauce. Use a fork to mash everything into a paste Place an amount on a cracker or toast point and enjoy.

                1. I enjoy them straight out of the can, same with anchovies but understanding that others do not- I searched and found this gem: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/18/din...

                  Smoked oysters on a Saltine with some spicy mustard and/or hot sauce anyone??

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: AnyaTika

                    Smoked oysters on a cracker with a generous splash of Tapatio, Oh Yeah. Always have sardines and smoked oysters in the pantry.

                  2. Check out your best Asian grocer's freezer. Chances are they'll be selling sardines that are quite a bit bigger than the canned variety there -- usually up to about seven inches or so. These are excellent roasted with some thyme or the herb of your choice, then finish with lemon when you serve them. They will convert almost anyone.

                    In fact, I think I've just come up with my dinner tomorrow night.

                    1. I had a sardine salad-stuffed avocado in a restaurant a couple years ago. It was great, made sort of like tuna salad with mayo, celery, etc. Now, sometimes I make a tuna salad with half tuna and half sardines. Really good! There is a famous dish called Janssen's Tempation that I believe is mainly potatoes, sardines and onions. It sounds quite delicious. Anyone tried it?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: MazDee

                        That sardine/avocado salad sounds great -- will try it soon. Jansson's Temptation is made w/anchovies -- and it makes all other potato casseroles pale in comparison!

                      2. I add sardines to a greek salad (halved grape tomatoes, red onion, feta, kalamata olives, cucumber, and an oregano-heavy read wine vinagrette, with or without greens) and you don't even notice they're there, since they blend right in with the salt of the feta and olives, plus the bight of the red olives and tomatoes helps balance the richness they might add. This makes a complete meal, especially if you have it w/ or stuffed into a pita.

                        Also, it's true that the sardines packed in water seem to be milder. Trader Joes has a couple varieties at good prices.

                        1. Love Sardines....Straight up right out of the can....Usually King Oscar or Crown Prince.
                          A slice of onion, hoop cheese, and saltines round everything out...A few shots of Louisiana Hot Sauce or a hot pepper sauce is good too...Wouldn't think of going on an all day fishing/hunting trip with out a couple of cans...


                          1. If you like canned tuna you should have no problem with sardines. If you've always eaten tuna packed in water versus olive oil, you are missing a real treat. Likewise, if you like tuna in olive oil, you will like sardines in olive oil.

                            Personally, I don't like the sardines in mustard or tomato. If you're going to dress them up with something, I'd rather do it myself with some better quality ingredients that I have control over like fresh chopped vegetable (tomato, cucumber, etc. when in season) some fresh herbs and some grinds of black pepper.

                            1. Sardines range from anchovi-like fishiness to tuna-like mild. If you like tuna, you'll like some brands of sardines. Try the Season brand in olive oil, it's very mind and tuna-y.

                              If you're new to sardines, try it like you would tuna salad. I LOVE sardines on a bagel with cream cheese, scallion, capers and pickled onions. There was also a big sardine discussion here:


                              1. Sardines are like the magic fish; they are low on the food chain, which means fewer accumulated pollutants, they freeze beautifully, they are very good for you and they taste outstanding.

                                I prefer mine fresh. They don't taste a bit like canned anchovies (then again, fresh anchovies don't taste mush like canned either). They are meaty, rich-tasting and not at all difficult to acquire a taste for. I suggest simply rubbing them in olive oil and grilling them whole over coals, maybe five minutes a side. They are difficult to overcook. Grilled sardines with a squeeze of lemon, toasted bread and a tomato salad is about as perfect a late summer meal as one could hope for.

                                1. thanks to everyone! I will try all of these suggestions (and I too am 54 and never tried sardines before, although I've never found a fish/seafood I don't like except canned anchovies).

                                  1. Like Fuller, I also like to dress up sardine using fresher ingredients. What I'll often do is buy oil-packed sardines (simply because the texture is better IMHO than water-packed sardines). Then:
                                    -Drain off the oil in the can well.
                                    -Give a good squeeze of lemon juice oven the sardines (still in the can).
                                    -Sliver some hot peppers, chop some scallions, parsley, cilantro or combination of the 3 and strew over the sardines as well. Instead of hot peppers, you may want to use some red pepper flakes, a few evenly places squirts of Sriracha, tiny dollops of sambal olek....I just like something that adds a little bit of heat.
                                    -In a small pan, place some thinly sliced in cold extra virgin olive and gently heat until the garlic cloves are crisped and lightly browned. Pour the garlic-infused oil into the can to barely cover the sardines, and tuck the browned garlic into the can as well. I'd say that I like the ratio of lemon juice to olive oil to be about 50-50, but your tastes may vary.
                                    -Set aside at room temperature for a short time- as little as 15 minutes will allow flavors to blend and permeate. Or you can cover and refrigerate overnight, but better not to serve ice cold.

                                    Enjoy with thin slices of pumpernickel bread, or crackers of your choice.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: 4Snisl

                                      Interesting. Does the can give any off flavors when you start touching the cut edges with lemon juice, etc,? I'll have to try that. If anything, you could just use a little glass jar to marinate them I suppose.

                                    2. Echoing someone else on this string, but note that canned sardines are far less scary if you buy them boneless, skinless, packed in oil. I LOVE them on toasted rye, dotted with capers. Try to think of them as tiny canned tuna.

                                      1. This is a cool thread. I will try a lot of these suggestions!

                                        1. Sardines make lovely sushi and are lovely when fresh and cooked. But some of the standard canned brands aren't that interesting.

                                          But try a few brands. Bar Harbor brand sold at Whole Foods is superb.

                                          1. Bumping this because yesterday was the first time in my life I ever tried sardines. I don't remember the brand--I bought them at my local "healthy foods" grocery--but they were boneless and skinless, packed in water. To me they tasted just like canned tuna. I ended up mashing them up with mayo, salt and pepper and putting the mixture inside a jarred roasted red pepper. Awesome.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: MandalayVA

                                              Now try the olive oil packed (steer clear of the cottonseed/soybean oil). You can get decent brands at most supermarkets. Glad you liked them!

                                            2. If you remember Lt Buntz on the Hill Street Blues TV series (Dennis Frantz), his favorite sandwich was sardines and chopped onion and mayo mashed up like tuna salad. It's one of my favorite sandwiches.