Many people regard sardines as a lowly canned food. Actually, canning of sardines started only in the 19th century, after Nicolas Apert, a French scientist invented this technique of preservation. Napleon I was looking for a way to ensure food preservation for his army. He fully knew that soldiers had to be well fed. His army marched on its stomach.
Originally, sardines were eaten fresh on the dockside, either grilled, or salted. They were shipped in huge barrels of brine to distant cities.
The name of sardines originates from ancient Greeks who had settled in Sardinia and found abundant schools of small fish in the pristine waters of this sunny Mediterranean island. They called them sardines and consumed them grilled.
Sardines thrive mostly in the temperate waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Coast, Gulf of Biscayne, east and west coasts of Canada.
Sardines or pilchards are small fish related to herrings and belong to the family of clupeidea. To millions, sardine is a young European pilchard, and many a can contains sprats, which are 6 – 8 cm long. In Baltic countries sprats are first smoked and then canned. They taste delicious.
There are several genus on the family of clupeidea: genus dussumerio, – escualosa, – sardina, – sardinella and – sardinops.
The specie may be moderately fatty, or fatty, pending on season. The best season is March – July when the sardines are at their fattest. Portuguese fishermen grill them wrapped in grape leaves to preserve the fat, and enjoy them with crusty bread. The impromptu meal is washed down with a glass or two of vinho verde from the northern part of Portugal.
In France fresh sardines are marketed according to size: Petite Italy 12 – 15 cm long; medium 15 – 20 cm. ; Grosse Bretagne (Large Brittany) 20 – 25 cm.
Petite Italy is good for grilling; medium for pan-frying, and Large Brittany for filleting, stuffing, and baking.
In Toronto a few restaurants feature sea-salt cured sardines, others prefer to grill, and a few offer this delightful fish baked.
Sardines are versatile and may be grilled, breaded and fried, roasted, wrapped in parchment paper and baked, and prepared en esabeche (cured).
This underrated fish is rich on poly- and monounsaturated fats, phosphorus (.27 grams per 100 grams), calcium, vitamins B3 and B6 and is moderately fat (163 kcal/100 grams).
Fresh sardines are available from some ethnic fishmongers in Toronto, and frozen ones are available in many grocery stores. Canned sardines vary in taste pending on their country of origin. The tastiest come from Portugal and Spain.