Sardines - Gourmet Guide

June 12, 2019 | By Dave Mattingly

Sardines encompass several varieties of small oily fish that are members of the herring family. Fishing for Sardines can be traced back thousands of years. In the early 1400s, Sardines were named for the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where schools of Sardines were once abundant. It is said that French leader Napoleon Bonaparte popularized these little fish by encouraging the canning of them in order to feed his citizens. From the mid 1700s to the mid to late 1800s, Cornwall, England was the base of a thriving Sardine canning industry. Interest in Sardines in the US peaked in the mid 1900s, and has declined as the last Sardine cannery in the US located in Maine closed in 2010. Sardines may still be in store for a comeback, as the European Union placed Cornish Sardines from Cornwall under Protected Geographical Status (PGI) in 2010 which ensures that Cornish Sardines be produced in Cornwall, England.

Sardines have a rich tasting and dark colored flesh and a silvery colored skin. Fresh Sardines are quite perishable, so canning Sardines is necessary to ensure a longer shelf life. Sardines are often salted and then packed in oil or brine to keep them moist, and may also be packed in sauces or flavored oils. Sardines are packed so tightly into cans that the term "packed like sardines" originated in the early 1900s which referenced situations where individuals may be packed or crowded into a tight space.

Over 20 species of fish are sold as Sardines, of which 6 are considered pilchards. Traditionally, pilchards are larger and considered adult Sardines. Some suggest that fish shorter than 6 inches in length should be considered Sardines while those longer are pilchards, but to add confusion to the debate, pilchards may also be called Sardines. Sardines are plentiful in areas of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and regions of the Mediterranean. Portugal, Spain, France and Norway are the world's largest producers of canned Sardines.

Fresh Sardines have a mild taste and maybe grilled, pickled or smoked. Fresh or canned Sardines add a fishy flavor to sauces, and are used in Asian cuisines and Caesar salads. Sardines are the ideal hors d’oeuvres or pre-meal appetizer and may be paired with crackers and enjoyed as a light meal. A flavorful Sardine spread may be made by blending Sardines with red onion, parsley, cilantro, salt, lemon juice and olive oil.

An oily saltwater fish, Sardines pack a nutritional punch with high amounts of protein, B Vitamins, Vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and iron. Sardines are also a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which support heart health. Since Sardines are at the bottom of the marine food chain and they feed on plankton alone, Sardines contain lower amounts of mercury and other heavy metals.

The rich, full flavor of these small, oily fish has made them favorites all around the world. Whether smoked like English kippers, canned in oil, or covered in a rich sauce, sardines can be enjoyed at any time of day.

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