Sardines: not gross.
That’s news, right? I grew up on a cattle farm in the Midwest. The amount of beef I ate through age 17 is enough for my entire lifetime. It did send me into a decade-long vegetarian and vegan cycle, from which I’ve recovered. But my current protein kick is sardines.
I’ve always equated sardines with anchovies, the tiny little fishes used as pizza toppings. And though I’ve often turned to canned tuna for a cost-effective, ready-to-eat source of protein, I shuddered at the thought of sardines. Grossness.
However, I was recently discussing Omega 3s with my chiropractor, a happy, healthy, holistic paleo-enthusiast. She’s of such sound mind and body that her word is gospel to me. She recommended I lay off of the Omega supplements (super costly, btw) and eat fish. Daily. And not tuna, which is a larger fish that’s likely to contain more mercury, so it should only be eaten a few times a week. She recommended salmon, scallops, oysters (which even she admitted to finding unpalatable) and shared that one of her favorite fishes is sardines. I nearly scoffed and gagged at the same time. The odor of anchovies from grade school pizza parties flooded my memory as she assured me they were delicious on salads and in a variety of dishes. Eating Omega 3s as part of food makes the fatty acid much more easily available (bioavailable) to your body. You have to eat anyway, she argued. Why not get your nutrients in the form of food?
It made sense. And, as a primarily paleo eater, I’m always on the hunt for a bargain. Omegas are mega important to me in the winter, as seasonal affective disorder is part of my life I combat with Vitamin D, a light lamp, a gym membership and lots of hot baths. I actually wrote a song about it that’s a hit with folks who hear it. So, I strode into the food co-op with a mission. On the shelf above the wild-caught tuna fish were rows of sardines: in water, in oil, in tomato sauce. I opted for a variety in oil with lemon. You can’t go wrong with that combo. I also grabbed a box of herring kippering snacks for good measure. The fish revolution was beginning.
I got this boxed tin of sardines home ( Wild Planet is my preferred brand) with little idea what to do with it. I didn’t want to eat them cold on a salad; the idea of those textures didn’t appeal to me. So I sautéed some chard and kale in bacon fat with garlic and threw the sardines and the oil in, just long enough to heat them up. I plated the weird stir fry, along with my typical carb of choice: a mashed sweet potato with butter. Then I hungrily dug in.
It was awesome! My brain tried to cling to memories of anchovial disgust, but my tastebuds embraced the smoky flavor and robust texture. Canned tuna pales in comparison to sardines, which are typically deboned and beheaded before canning. I was in. Sardines are now an item on my shopping list.
Here are a few recipes I’ve tried or look forward to trying. I probably won’t eat them every day, but 3-4 times a week as an easy fallback meal is likely. Please let me know if you have any sardine insights to share!
- Pan-Fried Sardines
- Paleo Stuffed Avocado
- Sardine and Sweet Potato Fish Cakes
- 7 Things to Do with Canned Sardines
- Sicilian-Style Sardines with Fennel
And here’s your somewhat topical music video.