Any brand recommendations for sardines? I've never served them before but I keep seeing recipes for a pasta dish with Parmesan cheese, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Hubby was a pizza man for a brief time and is less than impressed with the way chain-store sardines smell through a pizza box. I figure I have one shot to convince him that sardines on pizza aren't the only way. Thank you!
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1) Bones/skin: traditionally in the Iberian peninsula, sardines are canned with the skin and bones intact. If you don't like that, be certain to look on the can or box label for "without skin and bones" or "skin and bones removed". For those unsure, the sardines are cooked to the extent that the bones are very tender and it's quite unlikely they could get caught going down or be unpleasant in chewing.
2) Oil & sauce - definitely look for sardines in olive oil if they're in an oil. Extra virgin would be the best of the best. Economy brands typically opt for sunflower oil (ok), or soybean oil (worst). Sardines can also be packed in flavored oils (see above), tomato-based sauces, or escabeche (a vinegar, oil, garlic & herbs based dressing for poaching fish). The variety is often quite refreshing especially if you eat them *almost* out of the can as I like to do.
3) Smoked? - some sardines are lightly smoked. Some people find this detracting from the natural flavor of the sardine flesh, while others prefer it because it mellows out the more fishy elements of that same flavor. Smoking also firms up the flesh a little I find. It is simply a matter of preference, but the smoking is never strong - you will not find a sardine with a smoke flavor like nova lox.
4) Nationality - this is the contentious bit. I find that Iberian and Breton sardines are the best of the best, because their fishing fleets generally fish only for the largest specimens of European pilchard, the true sardine, and they are not sent abroad for canning. Breton sardines are fried before canning, which makes the flavor and texture rather unique compared to that of other countries. "sardines" or "bristling sardines" from Norway, the UK (especially Scotland) and Canada are likely European sprat or Atlantic herring in the case of Canada. The flavor of these fish is a bit milder and flesh is slightly more oily than true sardines. Sardines from Morocco, the largest sardine cannery in the world, tend to be smaller and with the skin and bones removed completely, which makes their flavor a bit milder - the price is lower but so is the flavor in my opinion. I cannot comment on Pacific sardine species as I haven't tried any brands that source them yet.
Brand: Keeping in mind everything before, these are the brands I've tried and can vouch for their quality. I've found that you can find high and low prices of very comparable quality aside from a few that are mostly expensive due to scarcity.
Trader Joe's Lightly Smoked (pink can)
Food Emporium (only at A&P umbrella stores such as Food Emporium/Pathmark etc. )
Les Mouettes d'Arvor
Agostino Recca (these are the only ones I've ever seen stateside, and they come in a big tin packed in salt like their anchovies, they must be soaked and rinsed before eating).
Well, in that case, does anybody have an anchovy recommendation? (Thank you, casa-giardino! Those look lovely, and the tin photo is very helpful.)
Sardines, which are also sold both canned and fresh (heaven, btw) are also used in some pasta dishes (Pasta con le Sarde is a classic Sicilian one, with sardines, pine nuts, raisins, tomatoes, etc.)...but not nearly as commonly as anchovies. Sardines might also be used as a pizza topping sometimes, but I don't think they're typically offered at the 'chain', mass market places, e.g. Pappa John's or Domino's.