sardines are a different ingredient than fresh and
worthy in their own right.
this age of fresh and local, canned foods are so far out of
fashion that it sometimes seems as if they hide their heads
when you walk past them in the grocery store. In some cases,
this is valid: Who still buys canned peas or asparagus? But
in others, it’s nothing but shortsighted snobbery on our
part. What is more delicious than a really good canned
certainly a fresh sardine is right up there, split and
grilled over a hot fire. But canned sardines are not ersatz
fresh sardines; they are a different product entirely, like
cucumbers and pickles, or roast pork and prosciutto.
sardines are worthy in their own right. They have earned
their pungent dignity.
pungent they can be. Rightly or wrongly, canned sardines
have a reputation for masculine appeal. They’re the kinds
of things hard-boiled detectives might eat, leaning over the
sink, pulling on a strong craft beer, with Charlie Parker on
good with mustard and/or capers. Of course, a little sharp
onion is never out of place. A little heat? Why not? A
squirt of lemon or a few drops of red wine vinegar bring
balance. Maybe mash them up with butter or mayonnaise into a
spread or a soft pâte.
got canned sardines in your pantry, dinner is never far
his wife is out of town, Lou Amdur, owner of Lou Provisions
& Wine in East Hollywood and former proprietor of the
beloved Lou wine bar, makes what he calls his "bachelor
special": sardines spread on toasted crusty bread,
moistened with a little of their oil and topped with pickled
recently, The Times’ Jonathan Gold reviewed Octavio
Becerra’s new Acabar restaurant, where the chef makes a
fetish of sardines — served on grilled bread thickly
spread with butter and topped with a spicy herb mix. I
simplified this a little, mashing sardines onto crackers and
spooning a little of a chermoula made with mint and parsley
and just a touch of garlic. Pungent meets pungent.
of course, sardines are not just a hard-boiled guy thing. I
remember renowned cookbook writer Paula Wolfert serving an
appetizer of toasts topped with wedges of ripe avocado,
sardines and thinly sliced onions. She said she’d learned
it from Ferran Adria, an amazingly rustic offering from the
wizard of modernist cooking.
olive oil, garlic and fennel seeds, and add canned sardines
at the last minute, so they just barely break down. Stir
this together with cooked pasta, parsley and fennel fronds
chopped together and soaked golden raisins. And finally,
scatter over fresh bread crumbs that have been toasted in
my version of a dish that I learned from an old friend, the
late actor Vincent Schiavelli. He called it pasta chi sardi
a mari, or "pasta with sardines that are still in the
sea." It’s a pun on the great Sicilian fresh sardine
dish pasta con le sarde, for those times when fresh sardines
this is another case of me taking liberties with someone
else’s recipe. Traditionally, it is made with anchovies
— either salted or canned. However, I think with canned
sardines, the pun seems even more pungent.
FOR THE PERFECT CANNED SARDINES
fans sample sardines, mostly packed in oil, from a variety
of sources. Here are their favorites.
is an ocean full of canned sardines at local markets, but
which ones are really worth buying? Tasting through more
than a dozen samples, the range of quality was astonishing.
There were sardines that were as bland as beige, and then
there were fish that were absolutely magnificent.
help make sense of the journey, I enlisted Lou Amdur, owner
of Lou Provisions & Wine and a sardine lover from way
sampled sardines from a variety of sources: regular
supermarkets, high-end markets, Asian markets and specialty
markets such as the Harbor City Spanish store La Espanola
we focused on nonsmoked sardines that had been packed in
olive oil, partly so we could focus on the quality of the
fish and partly because that’s what you want if you’re
using sardines as an ingredient rather than a snack. Here
were our favorite sardines in roughly ascending order:
Prince Skinless Boneless Sardines (99 Ranch, 106 grams,
$2.69): A good, usable sardine for cooking, with a fairly
meaty texture and a clean flavor.
Portuguese Sardines in Olive Oil (Bristol Farms, 125 grams,
$4.59): Good meaty texture with a clean, pure fish flavor. A
little more salty than some other sardines.
Gallego Sardines in Olive Oil (Spanish Table website, 120
grams, $3.69): Fairly meaty, strong, clear fish flavor.
Sardines (La Espanola, 120 grams, $4.98): Large with dark
blue skin. Very meaty with good flavor.
Sardines a l’Ancienne (Bristol Farms, 120 grams, $4.99): A
very good, very French sardine, with firm, meaty texture and
a subtle flavor. The quality of the olive oil was notable
— very clean and delicate.
Mouettes D’Arvor "Ville Bleue" Vintage 2011 (Lou
Provisions & Wine, 115 grams, $9.50). Yes, there are
vintage-dated sardines. Don’t laugh — this fish was
nothing short of amazing. The flesh was so firm that you
could lift the fish by the tail without it falling apart.
The flavor unfolds as you taste it — ultra-clean, pure
fish flavor with a sweet, nearly fruity finish. Expensive,
minutes. Serves 6 to 8
teaspoon minced garlic
teaspoons chopped mint
teaspoon red pepper flakes
tablespoons olive oil
tablespoon red wine vinegar
(120-gram) can sardines in olive oil
Combine the garlic, mint, parsley, red pepper flakes and
salt in a mortar and pestle, and pound to a paste. Slowly
add the olive oil, stirring constantly to make a creamy
sauce. Stir in the red wine vinegar and adjust seasoning to
taste. Alternatively, pulse the garlic, mint, parsley,
pepper flakes, salt, olive oil and vinegar in a blender to
make a chunky paste. This makes about one-third cup
Drain the sardines and stir them with a fork to break into
pieces. Spread approximately 1 teaspoon of sardines on a
small cracker and top with approximately one-half teaspoon
chermoula. Repeat until all sardines have been used. If you
have sauce left over, it will store tightly covered in the
refrigerator for up to 3 days.
OF 8 SERVINGS
fat: 1 gram
CHI SARDI A MARI
minutes. Makes 4 to 6 servings
fresh bread crumbs
(80-gram) can sardines in olive oil
tablespoons olive oil
whole clove garlic
teaspoon fennel seeds
teaspoon red pepper flakes
chopped fennel fronds
tablespoons chopped parsley
Cover the raisins with hot water and set aside to soften.
Place the bread crumbs in a small skillet, add just enough
of the oil from the sardines to moisten and toast over
medium heat until bread crumbs are golden and fragrant,
about 5 minutes. Transfer to small bowl to stop the cooking.
Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of rapidly boiling,
heavily salted water until it is al dente, about 12 minutes.
While the spaghetti is cooking, heat the olive oil over
medium heat in a skillet large enough to hold all the
spaghetti. Add the garlic clove, fennel seeds and red pepper
flakes and cook, stirring occasionally until the garlic has
begun to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Discard the garlic.
Remove the sardines from the oil in which they’re packed,
retaining the oil. Add the sardines to the skillet and cook,
breaking the fish into bite-sized pieces with a spatula.
When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving one-half cup of
the cooking water. Add the pasta to the skillet, along with
the reserved cooking water. Drain the raisins and add them.
Add the fennel fronds and parsley, increase the heat to high
and cook, stirring constantly, until the water has
evaporated. Taste and add some of the reserved sardine oil
if a stronger flavor is desired.
Scatter the toasted bread crumbs over top and serve.
OF 6 SERVINGS
fat: 1 gram
Loosely based on a recipe from the late actor Vincent