Why Sardines Should Be at the Top of Your Grocery List
by Owen James Burke
Sardines are probably one of the healthiest finfish you can eat from the sea. They are hardly ever farm-raised, which means that they swim and eat as they please, and they’re rich in vitamin D3, your Omega-3’s and purines. Large apex predators like tuna, swordfish, marlin and shark are known to accumulate excessive levels of heavy metals like mercury, while sardines may contain up to 8 million times less mercury than even salmon.
Do you ever wonder why it is that, especially in the United States, many people avoid eating sardines? Aside from the fact that they are usually associated with a tin can on a grocery shelf, sardines, or pilchards, are quite oily and bony. The sardine is, however, a very healthy option. Sardines feed on photosynthetic plankton, so as lighter consumers, they acquire very minuscule concentrations of heavy metals than most larger, more commercially sought predators do. Because of their diet, sardines are rich in omega-3 oils, protein, good cholesterol, selenium, and calcium and fluoride if you eat the soft bones.
Often sold at around $2.00 USD a pound, they are certainly cheap enough for most of us, too.
There are about 21 different species of sardines, all belonging to the Clupeidae family, but they can all be prepared the same way. The best way to have sardines is fresh, of course, and this will thoroughly reduce the “fishy” smell left behind after cooking*. If your fish aren’t scaled, do so carefully with a knife, removing the entrails afterwards. As with most fish, the best marinade is simply olive oil, lemon and parsley. If you toss them on the grill afterwards, you’ll add a nice charred flavor to the fish, while also keeping the smell out of the house.
For many in Europe, sardines are a household staple. Breaded or floured with salt and pepper and then fried in a splattering pool of olive oil, sardines are easy, quick, and delicious. In Brazil they’ll add the fish, often fried this way, into a coconut soup called peixe escabeche, a variation of a popular dish from Portugal, which literally translates to “marinated fish”.
The bottom line is that these lowly fish are quite versatile in the kitchen, their populations are in good shape, and bringing them to the table will save you some serious cash.
*You don’t have to cook sardines, and they, along with other small fish like herring, can be delicious raw, when handled properly, of course.