Shhh! Sardines, the Superfood

My introduction to sardines, like many people, came when I was about 5 years old, sitting in front of the TV. Almost without fail, on Saturday morning cartoons, a cat would get tossed into a trashcan, and come out with a sardine tin, top rolled back, stuck to his head. Not exactly appetizing, to say the least.

Fast forward, 2012.


What kinds of foods are people into these days? High protein, low carb, low calorie. Omega-3 fatty acids. Sustainable fish. Deliciousness. Inexpensive never hurts either.


Sardines nail all of this. Protein? 17g per serving. Carbs? Zilch. Calories? 130 per can. Omega-3s? 1300mg per serving. Calcium? 25% daily value. Sodium? Just 8% daily value.


I’ve blogged about fresh sardines before, and decided they weren’t worth the effort. Prepared right, canned ones are just as good. My favorite canned variety is Brunswick, packed in spring water. They’re less than $1.50 per tin, and they can hang out on your shelf for a long time. No refrigeration.


Ok, so now I’ve convinced you that they’re one of the healthiest, sustainable, shelf-friendly, inexpensive and easy foods. Now, the big question — how do you transform them from fishy to fabulous?


My favorite way to enjoy sardines is broiled, with a sprinkle of herbes de provence (available in your grocery store), freshly cracked black pepper, olive oil, and lemon. If you don’t have herbes de provence (and you should, they are magic on fish), some oregano and thyme will be almost as good. Sprinkle the herbs and pepper on the fish, drizzle with olive oil, and throw under the broiler for 3-5 minutes, until sizzling. Take them out and top with a bit of lemon juice — fresh is great if you have it, but RealLemon tastes good too.


Something about this magical combination completely erases all traces of fishiness and goes perfectly with the flavor of the sardines. Scoop them up with a good cracker (I like Rosemary and OIive Oil Triscuits) and they’ll quickly become your go-to snack. You’ll be eating like a king in under 10 minutes. But keep the secret to yourself — if people realize how good this underrated food is, they might start flying off the shelf!



Recipe — Mediterranean Sardines
1 can sardines (Brunswick packed in spring water, or other)
Sprinkle of Herbes de Provence (or thyme and oregano)
Sprinkle of fresh black pepper
Sprinkle of lemon juice
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt, if desired
Crackers (Triscuits or other)


Drain can of sardines. Place in small oven-safe dish in a single layer. Sprinkle with herbs and black pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.


Broil for 5 minutes or so until sardines are sizzling and small delicious. Remove from broiler and top with lemon juice, to taste.


Eat voraciously with crackers.


Cooking is best when there is a story, an event, a gathering. One of the things I love most about food is that it’s the center of so many great things — it combines friends and family, art and nourishment, gadgets and fire. For most of us, many early memories come from watching our mothers, fathers, grandmothers, aunts — whoever — in the kitchen creating a meal or a dish. Foods we eat become associated with those people, and preparing them becomes a great way to look back on fun times.


Popovers will forever be associated with my Aunt Candy. I vividly remember staying over at her place with my cousins and whipping up these puffy, crispy, eggy rolls and eating them hot out of the oven with an assortment of delicious, sweet toppings. It was the perfect snack for a sleepover — easy to whip up with ingredients on hand, versatile, and eminently satisfying. It’s not so much that we made them all that often — realistically, it was probably not more than 2 or 3 times — but until then, I had never eaten a popover, and hadn’t really revisited them until I started making my own.


Popover come from a delicious family — Yorkshire pudding, crepes and puffy baked apple pancakes are all made with a very similar batter. The main difference is in the pan — a popover pan is similar to a muffin tin, but with even deeper cups. The deep cups give the popovers more vertical lift. Like the puffy baked pancake, the key to a lofty popover is whipping enough air into the batter, and using it relatively quickly (within 10 minutes or so). The small bubbles that form when you aggressively beat, whip, or blend the batter turn into steam inside the oven. The steam then propels the batter upward, where is is held in place by the proteins in the flour that start to solidify from the heat in the oven. Much like a balloon, the steam inflates the inside while the outside “skin” holds everything together. Pretty cool.
Enjoy it with just about anything — savory popovers with carne asada, bleu cheese and carmelized onions; sweet ones with cherries, cream cheese (or cottage cheese — my favorite — try it!) and a dusting of sugar, or butter, sugar and lemon. They store very well for a day or two in a bag on the counter, or frozen for longer.


I used Alton Brown’s recipe, but I found the salt to be a little much. Try 1 teaspoon, or less if you’re using toppings with a lot of salt.