28 April 2010

Survival Dining in Style

Folks, I've got to tell you that I am a late convert to the glorious deliciousness of sardines. Granted, there are good ones and bad ones out there, but, in a pinch they deliver a deeper and healthier seafood experience than canned tuna. (Alton Brown has popularized the little fish during his recent diet success.) Since they are packaged in convenient tins, they make great emergency rations, but it helps to know how to prepare them ahead of time.

Recently I took a tin of the Brunswick Sardines in Tomato & Basil and posited a little challenge for myself: delicious dinner in 5 minutes that doesn't rely on any modern technology. I mentioned "survival" at the top, because this only involves heating water. I'm fine with disappearing for weeks in the woods and eating bugs (seriously, termites taste like carrots, ants taste like lemon drops), but there are lots of situations where very simple methods can produce a delicious meal, like this. And it really was delicious. I've been to Italy, dined on the coasts, and while I've had much better seafood/pasta dishes, I've also had worse. The curse and blessing of dining in a small fishing town is the daily catch. If the fishermen had a bad day, you're going to be eating some nasty seafood.

If you can heat up water, either on a BBQ grill or over a candle, you can cook angel hair pasta. Why? Because it's very thin and only takes a minute or so to cook. Heat water up to boiling, dump in the angel hair, stir a little, and you're done. Much faster, easier, and efficient than beans, rice, or thicker pasta. Drain out the water using your fork as a strainer, then dump in the tin of sardines in tomato basil sauce. Stir lightly until warmed through, and you're done. The result is an improvised pasta con sarde that's salty, savory, pleasantly fishy, and the quickly cooked and sauced pasta is leaps and bounds above your Chef Boyardee canned varieties.

The wine is the 2007 Mandrarossa Fiano, a full-bodied white wine from Sicily. $12, 13% abv. Pure Fiano grape. It's got a lush and thick profile with lots of fruit. Which fruits? It's not a complex wine, but I got some overripe apple and peach, and there was also a magnolia blossom element to the wine as well. It's a good strong Italian white, if you're in the mood for that style. I served it in a Ball Mason jar just to continue the emergency rations theme. (If you don't have an ice chest for some of your perishables, you can chill your wine by wrapping it in a wet towel or wet newspapers and allow evaporative cooling to do its magic.)

Reviewing some other sardine cans: The Beach Cliff Fish Steaks with Louisana Hot Sauce were disappointing. Cross-sections of herring slathered in hot sauce. There's too much of the hot sauce and it's not a great compliment to the fish. I enjoy a dash of hot sauce with canned fish, but I prefer to use the right sauce for the right occasion and moderate its use. Plus, hot sauce fresh out of the bottle has a bright and refreshing acidity to it. After it's been sitting in a tin with fish for months or years it becomes flabby and uninteresting. I ended up adding Dijon mustard to this, but it didn't help much. Definitely have to eat these with crackers.

I mentioned the Beach Cliff Sardines in Mustard Sauce in a prior post, but after trying some different varieties they're still my favorite. Something about that cheap yellow mustard just goes so well with the fillets. It's probably the most balanced of the three, and stands well on its own. With crackers or toasted points of rye, the sardines are even better, but you can eat these straight from the tin if the situation requires it.


Thomas said...

If you have a seafood market nearby, see if they ever get shipped in Portuguese sardines fresh.

You won't go back to the tinned kind after that unless forced.

Benito said...


We don't get a lot of little fish shipped fresh in this part of the country. Occasionally I can get smelt, but that's about it. At the Asian markets I can get many weird and wonderful little fish, but only frozen or dried.

So like a 19th century factory worker, I satisfy my cravings with the odd tin of King Oscar's best.


Barbara said...

Ben I cannot bring myself to eat the canned variety now I've tried the real thing in Portugal.

Benito said...


I've heard they do wonderful things with them in Portugal. Also, the cans I showed above are all technically herring from the North Atlantic--different species that fall under the sardine label in different seas and oceans will obviously taste different.

I'd never argue for canned anything over fresh, but there is a convenience factor with the tins that's great for a snack or a light lunch, camping, or in the event of an emergency. Every once in a while, our city gets hit with a storm that can knock out power for weeks, and it helps to have non-perishables on hand.


Allen said...

I love the mustard sardines. marcell ledbetter done "flung a cravin on me"( in my best jerry clower impersonation) :) ...

Joe said...

oh yeah. Beach Cliff in mustard sauce are the noise. My dad used to always have these on hand when I was a kid. Great snack...

One of my (sigh...I hate overused phrases) "bucket list" items is to eat the $200 canned seafood in Barcelona.

I'm not saying "bucket list" anymore. Let's call them "death wishes", with a thinly-veiled nod to Charles Bronson.

B8wine said...

...and in order to keep surviving, make sure you have chewing gums, because sardines stinks.

Benito said...


I think that story was something that kept me away from sardines for a long time--something about getting the mustard smeared all over his face.


I find it's best to mask the aroma of sardines with garlic, washed rind cheeses, and kimchi.


I like where you're going with that, and there's nothing quite like a good Charles Bronson flick, but it starts to fall apart when you say, "One of my death wishes involves dancing the tango with a beautiful woman in Buenos Aires." Might scare some people.


B8wine said...

Kimchi sounds good. My wife is Korean and makes it at home (and the house stinks for 2 days); I will take some pics next time. In the past I have paired it with Prosecco and Gruet demi sec.

Joe said...

I say the weirder, the better.

Death wish #673: eating Haribo gummy worms and riding "It's a Small World After All" at Disney World while listening to Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention's "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" on Bose QC3 Noise Cancelling Headphones, so I can't hear "It's A Small World After All"