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Anchovies, Sardines, Kippers: are stinky canned fish interchangeable?

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I recently found a great source for my favorite brand of kippers (Polar) and have stocked up accordingly, as in, I bought two cases of 18 cans last week.

I keep running across recipes that call for anchovies or sardines, and while I'm willing to go out and pick these up, I'm wondering if they would work with kippers instead. In general, the recipes in question are Mediterranean and call for the fish in some kind of sauce or topping for pasta, polenta, greens, bread, etc., along with other salty, intensely flavored ingredients like olives, garlic, capers, etc.

To me these are all in the "stinky fish" category, but I know their flavors are nuanced and not the same. Would the smokiness of the kippers mess up the flavor profile in a dish that calls for anchovies or sardines?

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  1. I believe so. If its a topping u could get away with using sardines or kipper instead of anchovy, the flavor will be different but may work. Anchovy topping instead of the other two, well it may be fine if you really love anchovy.

    If the fish is cooked down into the sauce and calls for anchovy I think there's no substitute.

    Now I want kipper and crackers...

    1. In sauces anchovies just disappear into a wonderful unami subtlety with no indication of fish.

      Sardines and Kippers ime are meatier and not as intensely flavored as anchovies. I'm not sure if they would cook down without leaving some "fish" notes behind.

      "Would the smokiness of the kippers mess up the flavor profile in a dish that calls for anchovies or sardines?" I think this is just going to vary on a case by case basis. I'd give it a try though!

      1. Sardines, anchovies and herring are all oily fish, but there is more than "nuance" that separates them. Their textures, sizes and flavors are actually very distinct. Sardines are typically packed cooked and straightforward so you retain a distinct fish flavor. Anchovies, on the other hand, are smaller, yet far saltier with a concentrated flavor. They will also tend to dissolve in heat, whereas sardines and kippers generally retain their shape. Kippers are larger, smokier and sweeter-tasting than either sardines and anchovies.

        So yes, perhaps in limited recipes like pasta con sarde, you could do a straight sardine-for-kippers substitution, but if you wanted to make something like sardine rillettes, you'd find the kippers are too firm to mash with a fork. And if you wanted to make a puttanesca sauce with kippers, you would would end up with your herring swimming in tomato sauce.

        1. I've been using a sardine product for it omega-3 quantity that does not have the usual odor associated with that species, hardly any odor at all. The brand name is Seasons, and the sardines are from Morocco in oil. My source for the product is BJs, but there are websites that can be accessed with the keywords 'Seasons sardines.'

          BJs sells a 5-pack of 3.75 oz cans for a lot less than cited at the websites. If you have a Wegmans supermarket near you, you can get single cans there.

          1. I was out of my beloved sardines in olive oil the other day and used some smoked sprats in my usual Lunching Alone bowl of cottage cheese and whatever veg, chopped cherry tomatoes in this case. A little like licking a fishy ashtray - I certainly would not have served it to anyone else.

            All of these processed fish have flavors that go away from simple "fishy" in very different directions. Anchovies are wonderfully useful in bumping other flavors, even in sauces and gravies where you don't think you're tasting them, but I can't see having a plate of them with crackers. On the other hand, I can't imagine any compelling reason to combine sardines with pasta.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Will Owen

              Actually sardines with pasta is great, (olive oil, salt & pepper, a little parsley, flash roasted cherry tomatoes, and some bread crumbs) but I use a LOT more broken up sardines in my pasta than one or two smashed up anchovies in the pasta sauce.

              Back to the OP, I would never pesonally interchange the stinky fish in recipes because they don't have the same flavors to me or uses. For instance, canned mackerel is greated flaked on a bowl of rice for a quick breakfast, sardines eh, smoked herring forget it.

            2. I would never use kippers instead of anchovies are sardines. As you fear, the smoky flavor would be out of place.

              1. And sprats are not the same as Portuguese or Moroccan,

                However, you can. also experiment and find out how you like them. I have found the uni that is a tad to old to use straight will substitute nicely for anchovies in greed goddess dressing, and learned by just trying.

                1. Anchovies are not smoked, nor are sardines. They are brined...so- salty and fishy = the taste.

                  Kippers would kill a Caesar salad...the thought - nah!