Saturday, January 9, 2010

Why don't sardines get more respect?

Baked W.A. Sardines with Crunchy Breadcrumbs w...

Among the fish we eat regularly, only the much-maligned anchovy is smaller. But that doesn't explain why the mighty little sardine is misunderstood or completely ignored. Last night, our dinner of fresh sardines flown in from Portugal was a revelation.

I started noticing something was amiss when I read an article on healthy-to-eat fish in the January/February 2010 AARP The Magazine, which claims to have the world's largest circulation for a magazine. Yet, the piece completely omitted any mention of sardines. In the same issue, an article about how to save at the supermarket ignored canned sardines, inexpensive when compared to red salmon and better for you than albacore tuna, which is high in mercury.

Then, this week, The Record of Woodland Park  ran a Chicago Tribune article on nutritious foods that contained misinformation on omega-6 fatty acids in the vegetable oil sardines are often packed in. The oil is good for you, according to the American Heart Association.

I've long been aware fresh Portuguese sardines are flown into Newark airport weekly, but I've only eaten them occasionally in a restaurant, and that was years ago. So I went looking for them Friday during a trip to Fairway Market in Paramus, my main source for salted codfish. My backup was Whole Foods Market, also in Paramus.

But there they were at Fairway, their slim, silvery bodies resting on ice, at $7.99 a pound. I asked for two pounds --cleaned with the heads on -- and got an unlucky 13 sardines, but we ate all but two for dinner, with spaghetti in tomato sauce and a big salad of organic greens. I cooked them in two frying pans with extra-virgin olive oil, seasoned with salt, garnished them with fresh, chopped cilantro and squeezed lime over the fish. The flesh was mild, tender and sweet.

The fishmonger said they would take only two minutes or so per side, but they need to be cooked longer. I could also see baking them or charring them on a grill pan, but the skin is delicate and pulls off easily.

Mostly, I'll continue to eat canned sardines -- in breakfast sandwiches with hummus, cheese, greens and tomatoes or in spaghetti with a sardine-tomato sauce (about two cans of chopped fish for one pound of spaghetti or other pasta). And I'll continue to buy them at Fattal's Bakery in Paterson, where Moroccan sardines are a low 89 or 99 cents per can.

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