When I shopped for sardines last week, I went to three different stores. The first was Cheese Plus, a gourmet food emporium here in San Francisco. Sure enough, Cheese Plus had a selection of oily little fishes right beside the capers and other briny treats. Pretty tins of sardines and anchovies from Spain and Portugal lined the shelves, along with several varieties of herring from Germany in sauces such as mustard, cream dill or marinara. In the end, I decided not to buy anything from Cheese Plus because (a) they were fairly expensive (b) I wasn’t sure if these fishies were sustainably caught.
I scooted out of Cheese Plus and walked up the street to Whole Foods. Whole Foods had an even larger selection of sardines and oily fishes than Cheese Plus, and several of the tins were marked as sustainably caught. The price of the sustainably caught sardines was comparable with the other tins of brand-name sardines Whole Foods carried, so I decided to buy Wild Planet Sardines, one tin packed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the other packed in Marinara Sauce.
For the Sardine Avocado Sandwich, I used the Wild Planet Sardines Packed in Olive Oil. As the package says, the sardines were “Sustainably Caught Along the California Coast.” Can’t argue with that. And if you’re worried about eating tinned sardines because of BPA lining the tin, Wild Planet has you covered—their tins are certified BPA free. I was pleasantly surprised that these eco-sardines were only $2.29 for a 4.375 oz. tin, cheaper than the sardines at Cheese Plus and cheaper than some of the other sardines at Whole Foods. Yes, sardines are more expensive than a can of tuna, but they are also more nutritious, less likely to contain mercury and not as overfished as tuna.
I also bought a tin of Bar Harbor “All Natural Smoked Wild Kippers” from Whole Foods. Kippers are smoked herring, and being a huge fan of smoked salmon, I was eager to try another smoked fish. The Bar Harbor Kippers are “Sustainably harvested from the clear cold waters of the Gulf of Maine.” A 6 oz. tin cost $3.59, $2 cheaper than the German herring at Cheese Plus. Last weekend my parents were over for lunch and we had the kippers on open-faced sandwiches with mustard, capers, sourdough, spinach, radishes and cucumbers. We enjoyed the salty, smoky little kippers, and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy them again for an antipasto platter or sandwich buffet.
All was not sunshine, however, in my oily little fish eating ventures. I thought it would be a good thing to try fresh sardines in addition to canned sardines. I walked the 20 feet from the canned sardines to the seafood case and scouted for fresh sardines. On the far righthand corner of the case, pressed against the glass, were the fresh sardines. “Can I help you?” The fishmonger asked. “Um, I’d like some fresh sardines,” I replied. The fishmonger’s face lit up—I don’t think too many people buy sardines. I came home with 4 fresh sardines, each about 8 inches long. At $3.99 a pound, the 4 sardines cost $2.03—a lot cheaper than salmon or fresh tuna. From the moment my mom and I unwrapped the sardines from their paper, our house wreaked of fish. The fish still had their heads on and guts in, and my mom bravely went to work gutting and cleaning them. We decided we’d pan fry them and serve them with lemon and pepper, as another addition to our sandwiches. When the sardines hit the pan, a whole new wave of fish smell permeated the house. Time to open the windows. I didn’t even take any pictures of the fresh sardines because they smelled so bad. We ate the sardines just as we ate the kippers, with bread, mustard and cool, crunchy vegetables. The fresh, cooked sardines tasted fine, but the work of gutting them and the awful smell that lingered in the house for 2 hours are enough to keep me from buying them again. I might order them in a restaurant or eat them if someone else prepares them, but in my own cooking I’ll stick to tinned sardines.
The third place I looked for sardines was The Big Apple Discount Center grocery store on Polk Street. The Big Apple surprisingly had the largest selection of canned fishes, most of which were cheaper than the sardines I’d bought at Whole Foods. None of these fish claimed to be sustainably caught nor did their packages say where they were caught. I was also skeptical about the quality of fish. As a beginner eater of sardines, I’ll pay a little extra to buy sardines I find palatable.
All in all, I was very happy with my purchases from Whole Foods and will continue to buy my sardines there. Have any of you, dear readers, ever eaten or bought sardines? Where did you buy them? Were there any particular brands you liked or didn’t like?