What are the tastiest ways to eat canned sardines?
July 1, 2008 7:21 PM   Subscribe

Help me actually enjoy eating my canned sardines!

I've started eating sardines packed in spring water for health reasons (omega-3 oils, relative lack of toxic contaminants, excellent protein source, high levels of calcium, etc). I also find they have an appetite suppressant effect which I like.


While I love Portuguese smoked sardine fillets packed in olive oil, I find the whole sardines (Brunswick) with the bones and internal stuff relatively gross - although much, much healthier. My current strategies include burying them in dijon mustard and hiding them in large green salads ... I'm trying to cut carbs so I'm not sticking them between slices of bread for sandwiches.

So, canned sardine eaters... how do you eat yours and make them tasty?
posted by Auden to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
I suppose that you could lightly bread them and fry them up in a little olive oil ... truth be told, however, I enjoy them the most standing over the sink, eating them out of the tin with a small fork, while the cats stare at me with great envy.
posted by scblackman at 7:35 PM on July 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

I saw sardines on this list of the 11 best foods you aren't eating and thought I'm more than happy to keep avoiding sardines. Perhaps blending them into a paste with dijon and onions, as per the article, would help.
posted by Frank Grimes at 7:44 PM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

This question's great: I've recently gone mad for sardines, and everyone I know is sick of hearing me talk about them. Here's the recipe I got from The Minimalist:

74. Canned sardines packed in olive oil on Triscuits, with mustard and Tabasco.

posted by roger ackroyd at 7:44 PM on July 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

How big are the fish you're eating? I absolutely detest large sardines (bigger than about 3 inches long), but I absolutely love smaller fish especially canned in the cheap mustard that most manufacturers provide.

Take a mustard coated sardine, apply to a saltine cracker, enjoy.
posted by Science! at 7:47 PM on July 1, 2008

I've heard you can mash them up, maybe with some sauteed onions, but I haven't tried it yet.
posted by QIbHom at 7:51 PM on July 1, 2008

I'm a sardine lover as well. I never heard of sardines packed in spring water. I'm sure it's very healthy but maybe that's why it's not very good.
Is the spring water thing important to you ? Olive oil is certainly less healthy but i'm sure it makes a lot of difference in taste. I don't know if this french brand is available in the US, but their lemon and olve oil canned sardines are really good, it tones down the strong fishy taste of sardines which might be your problem.
If you read french they also have a recipe page that might inspire you.
posted by SageLeVoid at 8:06 PM on July 1, 2008

I asked the same question on alt.usage.english and got many good replies.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:08 PM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't speak from personal experience, but my grandfather's favorite breakfast dish consisted of two scrambled eggs and a tin of sardines.
posted by Token Meme at 8:10 PM on July 1, 2008

Mash them up with a bit of vinegar, fresh chopped chilli and finely chopped spring onions. Have them on toast.

I hate sardines, but I'll eat them if they're prepared this way.
posted by nomis at 8:16 PM on July 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

My grandfather's signature sandwich: mashed sardines, peanut butter and iceberg lettuce. Toast the bread. Mayo is optional.
posted by pullayup at 8:35 PM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think Sardines with a quality mustard on a Triscuit is best way.. Or on a nice firm baguette with mustard or marinara and Parmesan on firm bread works too.
posted by huxley at 8:35 PM on July 1, 2008

They come in different sauces I like Tomato
I also like herring fillets they have no bones and gooey parts :-)
posted by SatansCabanaboy at 8:37 PM on July 1, 2008

Just today I went out for lunch and had the most awesomely delicious salad of my life, which involved, of all things, grilled fresh sardines. Don't know where you are, but if you can get fresh ones, my God are they delicious.
posted by HotToddy at 8:38 PM on July 1, 2008

What's so unusual about fresh sardines? They're pretty easy to get here in the UK; I made this recipe for my girlfriend and I last week and it was really good.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:48 PM on July 1, 2008

HotToddy ... how were the fresh sardines in your salad prepared? Besides being grilled, were there s pices, herbs, lemon, feta, etc? (I happen to have some in the fridge at the moment that need to be prepared tomorrow...)

thanks for the suggestions so far, everyone. I'm looking forward to reading through 'Corpse's thread mentioned above very much.

I suppose I'll just have to cave and eat them with bread... they'd make a pretty good variant on a Pan Bagnat (the best sandwich in the known universe) I suppose, in place of tuna.
posted by Auden at 8:58 PM on July 1, 2008

I used to eat them on crackers with cream cheese...darn, that sounds really GOOD right now.
posted by lleachie at 9:08 PM on July 1, 2008

On a warm baguette, slathered with real butter or a soft cheese, like brie, maybe with a little diced tomato on top. Yum!
posted by platinum at 10:04 PM on July 1, 2008

I used to mix canned sardines (the cheap ones in tomato sauce) with chopped up red onions, and then warm them up in a frying pan until less watery. Since your sardines come in water, I guess you could easily add ketchup and oregano. Eat with rice or crackers. Or bread, as sardine sandwiches. Mmm. Time to get some 60-cent sardine cans.

When I was a kid, my mother used to make sardine sandwiches for me, from a paste of red onion/tomato sardines/butter. I thought it was the greatest. Although probably not the healthiest.
posted by Xere at 10:04 PM on July 1, 2008

If you're doing low-carb there's no reason not to get the ones in oil. I sometimes get the no-salt ones since the regular ones can be a bit salty, but they're kind of bland. I wish there were a middle ground.

I'd like to hear other non-bread options--I usually eat them in exactly the same way as scblackman. Maybe you could make Almond Thins or something and eat them on those?
posted by bink at 10:14 PM on July 1, 2008

I'm sure fresh sardines are not unusual in some places, but I've never encountered them before. Hopefully I'll be encountering them all the time now!

The salad was like this: on one side of the plate, watercress, shaved fennel, and golden raisins dressed with an orange-tomato vinaigrette, and on the other side, four sardines that appeared to have been simply brushed with oil, sprinkled with salt, and tossed on the grill.
posted by HotToddy at 10:48 PM on July 1, 2008

I love sardines! Ate somw for lunch today as a matter of fact. My favorite right now is smoked sardines on Ak Maks.

One thing I like to do with them is my made up "Finnish Reuben."

Grilled Rye
Sweet Hot Mustard
Sardines (or tinned herring, and I'll nth to mash them to get rid of bone texture)
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:55 PM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I totally know what you are getting at here. This recipe is adapted from something my father-in-law serves as a canape.

1. Fillet the sardines and slice in half lengthways.
2. Lay a half fillet on a slice of raw red or yellow pepper roughly the same length and width. 3. Salt and pepper to taste.

The crunchiness and tangy vegetable aroma of the pepper helps disguise the over-fishiness of the canned sardine.
posted by roofus at 4:58 AM on July 2, 2008

Mashed with a fork on toasted bread with olive oil, salt and pepper and either:

- fresh sliced tomato, red onion and a little vinegar; or
- roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley and fresh lemon juice.

They're also not bad mashed in pasta - heat a little olive oil in a pan, add garlic and soften, mash through sardines with a fork, toss through pasta with plenty of fresh basil and parsley.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:23 AM on July 2, 2008

Its boring, I know, but I don't think you can whack them on granary toast with butter and the merest suggestion of lemon juice.
posted by Jofus at 5:33 AM on July 2, 2008

There's a significant difference in quality, IMO, between the water- and oil-packed varieties. If you focus on oil-packed sardines that use olive oil, you'll get monounsaturated fat benefits along with the omega-3 boost. The water-pack ones are much firmer, and may be a different species since they're bigger? Unsure about that, but they taste different beyond just the enhancement of the packing fluid. Yeah, there's a calorie issue, but I wipe mine off with a paper towel and live with what's left.

I thought I'd invented mashed-up-with-Dijon until I got to college and realized that's how most of my sardine-eating friends did it. I also really want to go make them with parsley and lemon, as obiwanwasabi recommends.

Easy availability of fresh sardines seems to be a European thing. I have owned several European-printed cookbooks that have tons of recipes for the fresh ones, but I've never seen them (and I have bought a lot of fish in my lifetime). I substitute smelt in those recipes.
posted by catlet at 6:14 AM on July 2, 2008

My dad eats them by pouring out the oil or whatever they are packed in, pouring on some vinegar, and having soda crackers on the side.
posted by konolia at 6:26 AM on July 2, 2008

While I have no recipe advice, I'll share the only sardine story I have.

I was doing a book a few years ago and interviewing this old fart in Springfield IL, who had been running a gas station on Old Route 66 for over 50 years. Neat old guy, probably 80 or so, and was still coming in every day and welding something or selling someone a truck cap. Closed up at noon and went home where his wife would have his lunch ready etc, then come back.

He would sit down and tell these stories...one of his friends kids was going to box in the golden gloves...and he told the kids father to let him know when the bout was, because he was going to buy advertising space on the bottom of the kids shoes. Mentioned this woman we both knew who was going to start making her own postcards....sez yeah I know her, the only thing she can draw is flies. Just a classic old geezer/character.

So I'm walking around the station looking at all his collection of stuff, and he's talking to the photographer that was travelling with me, and this guy asks if we are going all the way to LA.

Photog says yeah. Old guy says, "you know....you two boys should carry some sardines with you on the way. You get a can of them and a few crackers and you can go all day.

I'm looking at these shelves full of all sorts of petroliana, and see a small jar sitting there that obviously isn't an old oil can.

Photog asks the guy if he likes sardines, and he replies he has always hated them.

Photog says well...then why, and the guy interupts and says

"Because every goddamn German I shot or captured had two cans of them in their pockets, and that's all I had to eat for 6 days and it kept me going."

Right as he said that, i sort of squinted at this little jar full of sand, and I see, written on old masking tape in very faded letters, the words "Omaha Beach"

I literally teared up, and said I was gonna go outside for a smoke.

Guess this would have been better posted on June 6.
posted by timsteil at 8:27 AM on July 2, 2008 [9 favorites]

It's pretty easy to de-spine large sardines; cut into them lengthwise, and the spine should lift out in one or two pieces.

Favourite way of eating them is drizzled with olive oil and black pepper. For added yum, grill them a bit, but it's vey stinky.
posted by scruss at 8:41 AM on July 2, 2008

What's so unusual about fresh sardines? They're pretty easy to get here in the UK

They're just not at all common in the US. I've only seen them being sold a couple of times. Some Asian and fish markets have mackerel, which is similar. Also, the fresh sardines you have in the UK are different and slightly larger I think. The fresh ones here are very small (maybe 1-2 inches wide at most, 1/2 inch thick, 4-5 inches long).

Derail: And anyway, all of you people are wasting perfectly good sardines by grilling them. What you want to do is dip them in a light, very salty batter and deep fry them. Oh my goodness. When I was in Egypt, I would go down to a suburb of Cairo to meet up with my friend, who worked in a kitchen supplies store directly across from a fish stand. You purchased fish by the kilo and if you so wished for another 2 pounds (40 cents) they would either fry or grill the fish right there on the spot. The fish store would have challenged even the least germophobic individual, but hot damn was the fish delicious.

Canned sardines are an excellent addition to pasta. Flake it and blend it into a tomato or other acidic sauce. Avoid cheese or white sauces though. One particularly easy recipe is to make a modified aglio-olio with a nice splash of extra virgin olive, a couple of cloves of fresh garlic (let's say, to taste), salt, crushed red pepper, a can of sardines (drained completely if using the spring water variety; if you use the kind packed in oil you can dump the whole can in) and a nice generous squeeze of lemon juice.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:09 AM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

at proper japanese places in the us, you can get shishamo -- grilled smelts, which are similar but obviously not the same thing. the best is ko-mochi-shishamo, grilled and still full of eggs. if you have any place that sells most of their food grilled-on-a-stick (like the downstairs places in st marks place in manhattan) they will likely have shishamo. the more authentic sushi places as well.

just made aglio olio with anchovies and red pepper flakes 2 nights ago, and it was awesome as always. the anchovies just melt into the oil. courtesy of this guy if I recall correctly.

great thread, I am going to go try and broil some sardines with olive oil and a little salt...
posted by dorian at 3:49 PM on July 2, 2008

Rye toast, horseradish and thinly sliced bermuda (red) onions. Stack sardines on one slice, horseradish and onions on the other and bring together. Supremely stinky yet oh so good. What is it about horseradish and sardines?
posted by SlappyPeterson at 4:43 PM on July 2, 2008

Smear them on crackers with gorgonzola and follow with Budweiser. You're bringing me back to my college days. :-)
posted by xammerboy at 6:08 PM on July 2, 2008

Oh, and you might want to check this book out: Tin Fish Gourmet.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:31 PM on July 2, 2008

1. mash with a little oil, lemon juice, and hot sauce
[or mayo, if you're into that kind of thing... ]
2. spread on toast
3. put under broiler until warmed through and a little toasty on top

Thanks, crazy British Mother! You gave me guilt, self-loathing and amazing comfort food traditions.
posted by rhinny at 1:40 AM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ok, here's what I've been doing lately (sardine edibility update) -

I finely dice part of a red onion (or slice up some spring onions), add whatever fresh herbs are handy (at the moment, a bit of dill and parsely) plus a good amount of dijon mustard, add some olive oil, maybe some diced bell pepper, a bit of lemon juice or vinegar, salt and pepper, drop in the sardines, and mash it all up. I then eat it atop fresh bell pepper slices, or celery, or wrapped in a leaf of chard or kale or cabbage. Healthy, pretty tasty and very fast and easy, though I'm still tweaking it. (Would also be great on crackers or toast but, as I mentioned in the original question, I'm trying to avoid excess carbs)
posted by Auden at 10:53 PM on August 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

This may sound gross (my mother's told me it's an abomination, in fact) but I really enjoy canned sardines mashed up with some thai spices, a little lime juice and a little boiled sweet potato. Don't fear the olive oil in the can, just drain most of it and the rest will be absorbed by the potato. Sweet potato is less carby than bread/rice/pasta and it's packed with vitamin A, so it's very good for you!
posted by battle_angel at 1:40 PM on August 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

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