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Sardines: What kind to buy?

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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.

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  1. Sonia,

    I have recently dived back into sardines and am trying as many types and brands as I can. I would only know them by sight in the store, but will now keep track and give my feedback.

    I'll watch this thread for other people's feedback as well.

    Thanks for starting this.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Monch

      I like the Kind Oscar, double layer, packed in olive oil. Soy (soya) oil is fine too. I just like the smaller fish that come in the double layer.

      1. re: Old E.

        We buy King Oscar, too, from Costco.

      2. re: Monch

        Try "Connetable Les Filets de Sardines". The best so far. I get these at my local Wold Market.

      3. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. 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.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Val

              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.

            2. 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.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Passadumkeg

                I get great deals on Roland and really enjoy them.

                1. re: Passadumkeg

                  You live in a sardine canning town? I thought I heard something on NPR last week saying that there were no more sardine canneries in the U.S.A. anymore. (it made me sad)

                2. King Oscar and Crown Prince....

                  1. I've always been a wimp and went for the skinless/boneless variety... what's eating the bones/skin like?

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: white light

                      Perhaps just try it...just mash up the sardines like so many have suggested...you'll never know they're there!

                      1. re: white light

                        The sardine skin is not an issue at all. I have trouble with bones in general and admit to being a wuss about them, but sardine bones are really very small and fairly soft; just mash them into whatever you're mixing the sardines with. I doubt whether you'll even notice them (unless you're a wuss like me.)

                        1. re: white light

                          I haven't really noticed the bones in varieties I've eaten lately, but I do have childhood memories of sardines that had somewhat crunchy vertebrae.

                          It's much less disturbing than it sounds. The bones are crunchy in a friendly way. Not at all in the way you'd expect bones to be. No cartilage or anything.

                          I'm not sure I've ever tried the skinless/boneless variety. Maybe I have without noticing. I wish these things were better labeled so I had the slightest idea what i have and haven't had!

                          1. re: sonia darrow

                            "vertebrae."
                            Those are the bones I'm referring to, I should have used that word; haven't ever noticed any other bones.;-)

                          2. re: white light

                            Skins couldn't possibly be less of an issue. The bones you can detect are only the spine. They have a chalky consistency, more crumbly than anything else. Definitely less textural than canned salmon's bones.

                            Really, just make peace with them. After two or three tries, they'll become a non-issue.

                          3. Where is rworange when we need her?? She did an exhaustive tasting here on the boards in 2006. I use her list and buy them online from Taylor's Market in CA because I live in BFE and can only get Bumblebee locally. I also learned from rworange that sardines are better aged in the can for 4 years. The only ones I like not on her list are As Do Mar and Ado. The Portugese and Spanish brands are best.

                            Here is a link to one of rw's taste-off threads. If you search "sardine taste-off" you should see the other threads. Worthwhile sardine reading.

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3207...

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: runwestierun

                              I love that list too by rworange...but many of her best just aren't available here, so like someone said, I do what I can. But I keep referring to her list in case I can find one of her all-stars.

                              1. re: runwestierun

                                I went through a sardine phase earlier this year and wasn't able to find most of the brands on that list locally. But I did try the Angelo Parodi and I really liked them. Unfortunately, they run around $3.99 here, compared to $1.99 on rwroange's list. I didn't think to look at the time, but I wonder if Cost Plus World Market might have some of the imported brands.

                              2. So far, my favorite is Reese skinless and boneless packed in olive oil. I buy them from Amazon in the 4.375 ox cans with a moderate amount of sodium. Low-sodium is also available, I think. If you elect automatic reshipments, they give 15% off, and free shipping is available if your order totals more than $25. Anyway, I chop them up in a bowl, add sliced black olitves (about 6), and three tablespoons of low-sodium diced tomatoes. I then heat this mixture in the microwave for a minute, and then stir the mixture into a serving of hot cooked grits. I add hot sauce and lemon-pepper seasoning at the table to my taste. Makes a great hot breakfast meal.

                                1. My two favorites are the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to sardines. On the low end, I love the Beach Cliff ones packed in mustard sauce. The sauce is pretty light, but it's a nice tangy counter to the fish. On the high end, I love love love the Nuri brand ones in spicy olive oil. They are from Portugal and usually cost about $4.00 a can. Worth every penny in my book.

                                  1. I think it's interesting to note that many chowhounds believe sardines should be aged in the can for 4 years for best flavor.