Regardless of whether you are a lover of the small silvery soft-boned fish or not, you aren’t living a year in coastal Europe to the fullest if you ignore the existence of sardines. Most Americans have misconceptions about sardines (and anchovies) as we are most often exposed to the canned versions in the US.
A few facts:
- Family– Anchovies and sardines are not even of the same family. Anchovies are in the Engraulidae family while sardines are in the Clupeidae family.
- Where– Both anchovies and sardines are abundant in the Mediterranean Sea. Sardines, thought to get their name from Sardinia, Italy, are also found in areas of the Pacific, Atlantic (on the Spain and Portugal side) and Indian oceans. They are fished off of western North and South America, Japan, Australia, and South Africa. Almost everywhere!
- Physical– One obvious physical difference is that anchovies have a long pointed snout and have a blue/greenish stripe whereas sardines have a gaping more protruding snout and more silvery body.
- Who-“Sardines” encompass a wide variety of small oily fish which include: herring, pilchards and sprat. Although there are different varieties of anchovies, the Engraulidae family doesn’t include other fish.
- Nutrition– Did you know they are a superfood? Both anchovies and sardines are full of Omega-3 fatty acids (brain fuel), iodine , vitamin B-12, iron, calcium, and of course, protein. Another upside, they don’t contain much mercury.
Before this trip, I don’t recall ever having eaten fresh sardines. I generally don’t care for overly salty or fishy fish on its own. My motto is that food must be eaten at least twice and in their freshest; finest form before writing it off. It made the most sense to jump on the sardine wagon when we were in Barcelona as we were having unprecedented luck stumbling into the best tapas bars. Below is the photo from Lo Pinyol tapas bar:
The Mediterranean concoction of olive, sun dried tomato, potato and sardine made my taste buds sing. There was no fishy or salty flavor dominating the bite what-so-ever. I was relieved that I would be able to embrace these sea creatures during the course of my year as opposed to resenting them for making me feel close-minded.
In most seaside Adriatic towns, fishermen will pull up to the dock with their latest catches to sell direct; sardines frequently in the pile. I ventured to the dock in Bol, Croatia at 9 am to buy a kilo for 1 Euro (7 Kuna). Inspired by my Barcelona experience I’ve played around with a couple of tapas style presentations and cooking techniques. I’ve included my favorite variation.
Sardines are officially on my list (shortly after limoncello) of travel epiphanies this year that I’m anxious to bring back to Seattle to share with my friends. Two main reasons why I’m so enamored with them: 1) They add a beautiful unexpected taste that collaborate well with many of the ingredients I like to use for hors d’oeuvres 2) I feel incredible after eating this superfood. After eating 10 grilled for lunch my energy-level was high and I was left feeling satiated.
If you live in a coastal town you probably have access to fresh sardines. Go to your local fresh seafood market to ask around. For my Seattle friends here are some resources:
Restaurant- Westcity Sardine Kitchen
Also, I’ve had great luck pre-ordering fish at PCC, Metropolitan and Whole Foods
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 2.5 lbs sardines
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- Bell pepper
- 2 bell peppers sliced in chunks
- salt and pepper
- Goat Cheese
- ½ cup goat cheese (chèvre)
- 2 tablespoons mint, chopped
- salt and pepper
- French baguette cut into slices
- Extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt (or finishing salt) and pepper
- Clean the sardines by removing the head and washing well under water. Make sure all the blood and innards are removed working them out with your fingers
- Once they are fully cleaned pat them dry with a paper towel. Heat up vegetable oil to a high heat in pan. Once it is sizzling hot add the sardines. You may need to do them in batches. Cook the sardines about 1-2 minutes on each side so that the skin is brown and crispy. Set them aside in a bowl.
- Lower heat to medium and add sliced garlic in olive oil to infuse the oil for 1 minute. Add the dry white wine, vinegar and increase the heat to medium high. Let the liquid reduce to about half then take it off the heat. Once it is cooled slightly add to the sardines to marinate for 45 minutes.
- For the peppers, heat up olive oil to medium high eat then add the red bell peppers skin side first. Cook for about 4-5 minutes on each side or until they brown slightly and soften. Remove and set aside.
- In a bowl, mix goat cheese, mint and season with salt and pepper.
- Assembly: Spread a teaspoon of cheese mixture on a slice of French bread. Top with bell pepper then a sardine. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper.