In the spirit of Michael Pollan’s Food Rule #32, “Don’t overlook the oily little fishes,” I went to the grocery store on Wednesday and bought 2 tins of sardines, 1 tin of kippered herring and 4 fresh sardines. I have eaten very few oily little fishes in my lifetime, so I was slightly skeptical that I would like these. As such, I followed my mom’s recommendation for a great beginner sardine dish: Alton Brown’s Sardine Avocado Sandwiches.
I was a bit nervous as I peeled back the lid on the tin of sardines—online commenters on sardine recipes made it very clear that sardines smell pretty fishy … and not in a good way. My sardines did smell like fish and the ocean, but their smell surprisingly was not rancid or repulsive. The sardines were packed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil and fell apart as I put them into a dish. I didn’t mind though; the idea of whole sardines staring up at me from the toast was not appetizing. Next step: marinate the sardines in sherry vinegar, lemon zest and black pepper (as well as the oil in which they were packed). Alton Brown knew what he was doing when he designed this sandwich because creamy avocado is an ideal accompaniment to sardines, both tempering and complementing the strong flavor of the sardines. With just two bites of this sandwich, I knew it wouldn’t be hard to make this a weekly lunch item. In fact, this simple and nutritious recipe had me thinking it would be impossible to overlook the oily little fishes again.
Makes 4 open-faced sandwiches (serves 2)
2 (3.75-ounce 2-layer) tins brisling sardines in olive oil (1 can was sufficient for me)
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves, divided
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
¼ teaspoon lemon zest, reserve the lemon and cut into 4 wedges
Freshly ground black pepper
4 (½ – inch) thick slices crusty bread, such as sourdough, country loaf or rye
1 ripe Hass avocado
Coarse sea salt
Drain the oil from 1 tin of sardines into a small bowl and set aside. Drain the oil from the second tin into another small bowl and whisk in 1 tablespoon of parsley, vinegar, lemon zest and black pepper to taste. Add the sardines, stir to combine and set aside for 45 – 60 minutes.
Brush the bread with the remaining sardine oil and broil directly on rack for 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown and crisp (or skip the broiler and toast the un-oiled bread in your toaster).
Halve the avocado and remove the pit. Smash the flesh in each half with a fork. Spread the mashed avocado evenly onto the toasted bread. Top evenly with the sardines. Pour any remaining dressing on top and garnish with the remaining parsley. Season lightly with sea salt and serve with lemon wedges.
Recipe (Sherried Sardine Toast) from Alton Brown on Food Network.com.