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!

  • Posted by: OnBlank
  • January 10, 2011


Jan W. August 16, 2016
I know this is a zombie thread...but it's important to note that not all canned sardines are prepared the same way, and that's despite the obvious things like additional flavorings/sauces/marinades.

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.

Da Morgada
Trader Joe's Lightly Smoked (pink can)
Food Emporium (only at A&P umbrella stores such as Food Emporium/Pathmark etc. )

Matiz Gallego
José Serrats

La Molènaise
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).

lastnightsdinner January 11, 2011
Rustichella d'Abruzzo has terrific anchovies packed in olive oil - I get mine at Whole Foods. Ortiz are good as well.
Midge January 11, 2011
lastnightsdinner, the name doesn't exactly roll off your tongue! I had to look it up myself. They stopped importing them for a while, but they seem to be back now. OnBlank, anchovies on pizza sounds much better!
OnBlank January 11, 2011
Good heavens, amysarah, you're absolutely right! I'm obviously quite naive about both sardines and anchovies, and from the recipes I've seen, I couldn't wrap my head around the idea of a "meaty" sardine melting into the sauce.

Well, in that case, does anybody have an anchovy recommendation? (Thank you, casa-giardino! Those look lovely, and the tin photo is very helpful.)
casa-giardino January 11, 2011
I use these salted anchovies with greens and pasta. I also buy fresh sardines.
amysarah January 11, 2011
From your description - often used on pizza at chain stores; commonly used in pasta with olive oil/garlic/pepper flakes - I think you may be thinking of anchovies, not sardines.

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.
Jon P. January 10, 2011
Ortiz is a pretty good brand.
scruz August 16, 2016
we went to s.f. fancy food show and had some ortiz products. bonito was unbelievably the best canned fish i have ever had. i would second them as a brand for probably anything.
scruz August 16, 2016
we went to s.f. fancy food show and had some ortiz products. bonito was unbelievably the best canned fish i have ever had. i would second them as a brand for probably anything.
lastnightsdinner January 10, 2011
Midge, we love those, too! Was on the train and having trouble remember the name :)
Midge January 10, 2011
Try BELA-Olhão sardines.You can usually find them at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.
lastnightsdinner January 10, 2011
I love Wild Planet from California (though canned abroad due to the fact that no US canneries remain). They're big and meaty and really delicious. Cole's are also great, as are MorGaDa from Portugal.
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