One of my favorite fish has always been Sardines: easy to cook, rich on taste and, as it happens, the healthiest food in the world – full of omega-3 fatty acids, D and B vitamins, calcium and an array of minerals.
For all those reasons Sardines have always been a favorite food to many around the world ranging from less privileged communities to the elites, a real dish crossover among classes because of their great flavor and availability. And as they enjoy a sort of new renaissance today, they can be found in many New York restaurants as tapas, in Mediterranean salads or simply ‘grilled’ a-la-minute.
Sardines are found abundantly in the Atlantic, Pacific and the Mediterranean where they feed at the aquatic bottom solely of plankton for which they do not concentrate heavy metals such as mercury and other contaminants. Delicious and inexpensive, humans have been consuming them since ancient times. In Galicia, Spain, a land of fishermen and seafood cuisine, the tradition of sardines is as old as the first inhabitants of the region. From the small villages to the fish industry, tales about sardines seem to inhabit our popular culture as much as our culinary imagination. As one of the world leading producers today, —if not the biggest producer, Spain’s sardine canned industry expands through a long history that includes women workers preeminence and even surviving several ‘Sardine Wars.”
I can remember vividly myself as a young man many afternoons in Galicia hanging in the piers waiting for the arrival of the small fishing boats where the locals would buy the freshest sardines for the next day. The bounties of salty smells and silvery colors emanating from the sardine bags remain in my memories. My mother used to buy them in fairly good quantities that she would prepare and conserve for the whole season. Once at home she would clean them thoroughly first thing, — since Sardines tend to deteriorate quickly, and lay them boneless in fillets in a large pan. Then she’d marinate them in “escabeche” with salt, fennel and fresh herbs, vinegar, garlic and spices and fill the pan with olive oil. They will be covered and put away in the kitchen shelves for couple weeks. When the marinating process had ‘cooked’ the sardines the fillets were ready to eat as snacks in small tapas, or as part of other dishes.
Sardines are very easy to cook. Most restaurants offer them ‘grilled’ though they are really broiled which creates the same crispy skin texture (without actually falling apart) and rich smoky flavor. You can make a great dish with canned sardines marinated in salad and pasta dishes or tapas. Fortunately for us there are plenty of sardine banks in the ocean and they are not becoming endangered species any time soon.