Sardines, what can I say, they were not top on my list as a favorite food growing up. I somehow always linked sardines to Popeye the sailor cartoon…even though I know that his main thing was spinach. I have no idea why I link him to Sardines!! Regardless, this fish was not one that I remember seeing at our local markets, nor did I know much about them.
I think I remember seeing them in the canned fish aisle but I classed them with anchovies whose smell was a little overpowering for my younger self. When I travelled as a teenager, I had seen them on the menus in the south of France and Italy but I hadn’t been adventurous enough to try them on my own. It wasn’t until one of French cousins prepared a quick dinner for us on a busy night that I got to try sardines in a tomato sauce over angel hair pasta. At first I was ready to pick them out of my noodles and tell her “I don’t eat these” but I imagined my grandmother looking over my shoulder, encouraging me to give it a little try. I dove in and was very surprised at how good they were.
Paired with the tomato sauce and a glass of red wine it was a real Mediterranean treat. I went on to try sardines done in a variety of ways while I was in Europe and ever since then I get excited when I see fresh sardines on the menu. I have to say, for any of you that have only tried canned sardines and weren’t a big fan, the next time you see fresh sardines on the menu, do yourself a favor and give them a try. Done right they are really incredible and so good for you!
When I was pregnant with the twins, sardines on toast (covered with Dijon mustard) became a huge thing in our kitchen. I think it was the saltiness of the fish on top of crispy toast that did it for me. I didn’t have any chocolate or sweets pregnancy cravings, (though my husband did – he insists that sympathy cravings exist) but I absolutely CRAVED salty, crunchy stuff. My doctor had me eating a good amount of protein (and drinking TONS of water) and though I was still eating meats back then I tended to lean toward fish whenever I could. At the time I didn’t know how good sardines were for me (and the baby) but I have since read that sardines are a great food to include if you eat fish and are pregnant. They have been labeled “health food in a can”. They’re a fatty fish and are rich in Omega-3s which are critical for baby’s eye and brain development and are very low in mercury. Of course there are other ways to get your omega-3s if you don’t eat fish but if you do these are a great way to get ‘em! The recipe even won a place in the internationally renowned integrated doctor Alejandro Junger’s New York Times best selling book Clean Eats.
Though fresh sardines are sometimes hard to find, you should be able to find sardines packed in water or olive oil in most grocers. I tend to buy those packed in olive oil but you can also find them in tomato sauce or water. What I love about canned sardines is they are ready to go as is. Put them on crackers, toast, on a salad or on endives as I have in this recipe. It’s a great quick lunch, dinner, snack or appetizer for guests. Trust me they won’t last long!
Sardines on Endives
As featured in Alejandro Junger’s New York Times best selling book Clean Eats.
1 can (4-5 oz) sardines, packed in olive oil
1 tbsp capers1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh thyme
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
- In a medium bowl, mash the sardines, the oil from their can, capers and lemon juice. Stir in thyme, cayenne and season with salt and pepper.
- Separate the endives into single leaves. Fill each leave with sardine mash and arrange on serving plate.
Makes appetizers for 3-4 or a single main dish.