Sardines: What kind to buy?
This was inspired by the other sardines thread that is active right now, but I feel like it's a separate topic.
What types of sardine do you generally buy? I mean everything from the brand name (Especially brand names to avoid!) to oil vs. water, to the variety of fish, to other permutations like smoked or tomato sauce.
I'm generally a fan of sardines, but I never paid too much attention to what type of sardine I was eating. Recently I've started purchasing them occasionally from the supermarket, and I've ended up with some I really didn't like. I don't recall what was on the label of that tin but the sardines were greasy and kind of soft--they fell apart a bit when you tried to get them out of the can, and the skin just didn't have the same sort of firmness and integrity I've seen on other sardines. They weren't decomposing or anything but it was just unappetizing.
Some I liked better were really fat (only 3 or 4 in a can), dark blue colored, and had a smoky flavor. And they were firm little fishies!
I have NO idea what to buy next time I go to the store and I'm afraid of accidentally buying yucky sardines again.
Like any other ingredient, I buy different grades for different meals.
When it's just myself having a quick weeknight meal, it's the cheapies in water or hot sauce or tomato sauce. There's always at least one big oval Crown Prince cans in my pantry (though since I'm the only one who eats them, opening a can commits you to a couple-three meals in a few days). The cheaper ones are always a crapshoot in my experience. One can from a brand with be firm and delicate, the next soft and gray.
I also like the two-layer brisling varieties, especially the King Oscar cross-pack and the Crown Prince olive oil pack. These are the type I would put out as nibbles when I have friends over (well, the friends who'll eat this sort of thing).
A recent find is from -- believe it or not -- Dollar Tree stores. They have a Chicken of the Sea branded large sardine in oil. Though it says they're "lightly smoked" on the label, they're more what I'd call medium-smoked, and they are fantastic. I believe I paid 79 cents per can, and I recently went back and stocked up on them. They're the most flavorful cheap sardine I've ever eaten.
An Italian grocery I like stocks three or four varieties from Italy and Spain that come in glass jars. They are wildly expensive (around $14 per jar), and they're good. But they're not seven times better than the King Oscars.
Sounds like you would like Trader Joe's sardines in olive oil. They come in a tin inside a box, with "Product of Morocco" on the back. 3 or 4 fillets in each tin, and very firm, as canned sardines go. Not particularly smokey, but the salt level is just right for me.
I tried another brand (not TJ's brand, but sold there) that was packed in water and it was mushy and too salty. Can't remember the name, but it was a product of Canada, and I think it was the only water packed sardine they sold. Avoid that one.
I watch my sodium so any brand I buy, I try to keep the sodium 250 mgs or less, King Oscar seems to run high on the sodium last time I checked....Brunswick sardines in Olive Oil fits the bill nicely, and only costs $1.25 per 3.25 ounce can. I also like Vigo sardines in Tomato Sauce. And, having the added nutrition from the skin and bones is also important to me, which both brands have.
I have no idea where you are or what you have available, but I also am salt-challenged, and have found Reese skinless no-salt-added sardines (water packed) pretty good. Obviously they need some kind of seasoning--I use Trader Joes chili pepper saucer (no sodium whatsoever). I just bought some Trader Joe's no-salt-added sardines, haven't had chance to try them. Obviously, neither of these products are going to be on anyone's Best Tasting list, but you do what you can.
We eat a lot of canned sardines, 3-4 cans in the winter, 5- 8 per week in the summer. We used to buy seconds (unpainted cans from the cannery), but since the rapacious Bumble Bee came to town, we buy what ever is cheapest (under a buck a can) from our local discount stores, Reny's & Marden's.