the 64 cent fish

sardines

Proving that eating fresh, flavorful, sustainable food doesn’t have to be expensive, time consuming, or elitist, I walked to my local market this morning and bought these two sardines.

I decided a few months ago to try and limit my fish-eating to sustainable species, which meant bypassing my formerly-beloved tuna steaks and forgoing sushi, in favor of critters like these slender sardines.

This morning, passing by the poissonière, I picked up these lovely little fellas, shiny and bright-eyed, resting on a pile of ice. Unfortunately, the ice probably isn’t all that sustainable—but I’ll take a bit of global-warming in lieu of stinky fish.


And they insisted on giving me a plastic bag, even though I insisted that I didn’t want one.

(Actually, they insisted on double-bagging them.)

fish-eye lens

I asked for two and when he wrapped them in paper, weighed them, and handed them over, I was surprised when he told me the price: 64 centimes. Such a deal!

So, what to do with fresh sardines?

fresh sardines, broiled

If they’re really fresh, they can be marinated in lemon or lime juice with a few sprinkles of salt, then chilled for a bit, and served raw. The fillets are delicious draped on top of heavily-buttered bread.

I filleted my catch du jour for tonight’s dinner. The fillets got topped with oiled dry breadcrumbs mixed with a tiny bit of minced fresh garlic and flat-leaf parsley, and I broiled the fish until the crumbs were nice and crunchy. Gluten-free folks could top them with crumbled sliced almonds, salt, and herbs.

Vegan? Omit the fish—the breadcrumbs are good enough on their own.

The only problem I had was cleaning the little buggers. It wasn’t all that difficult, but now my drain is full of fish scales and my hands smell a bit fishy. I’d of paid twice the price for the sardines if they’d been cleaned.

But still…were they worth sixty-four cents?

You bet.



37 comments

  • David!

    I just got your email update about being at the Bi-Rite October 4th. Now I’ll have to choose between going to the Berkeley homecoming football game or getting ice cream and finally meeting you! Large sweaty men tackling in the dirt or luscious creamy delights? Hopefully the game is early enough so that we’ll have time to stop by and say hello!

  • I’m not a vegan..but how would you title or describe this vegan version to someone who is? ;P

  • Katie: I’m canceling the signing.

    Berkeley, here we come!

  • You can make Sushi with any fresh raw fish that isn’t poisonous (!). Marinated sardines would work too. :)

  • In the first shot, the little fish look gobsmacked that you paid only 64 cents for them. In the second, they look a lot meaner…and out for revenge (?). And in the third, they look to be over it and really delicious.

  • Here you go:

    http://nsakanaya.exblog.jp/7657002/

    Sardine Sashimi or Sushi is served with freshly grated ginger (instead of Wasabi) and lots of Negi (I’d use chives in Europe). The ginger will subdue the fishy taste and it will be also making the fatty fish more refreshing.

  • I love fresh sardines, David, and I buy them whenever I see them at the market. You said it, it’s cheap and nutritious and taste so good. As an alternative to serving with breadcrumbs, have you tried this great Venetian recipe for Sweet & Sour Sardines (Sardele in soar). I use small sardines for this dish. Recipe link: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/recipes/article3364274.ece

  • I’ve found toothpaste rubbed on the hands works really well for removing pungent cooking smells. Or kosher salt mixed with dish soap. Hope this helps!

  • Great deal! I’m not a huge fan if sardines – so many bones to pick through but I am a fan of both sustainable and frugal.

    We have a new program here in Canada called Oceanwise that is spearheaded by the Vancouver Aquarium. The OCeanwise folks work with importers and distributors to find them sustainable sources for fish. They get supplier info from chefs and go right to the suppliers to ensure they are doing everything as right as possible. As you’ve probably gleaned, I’m a huge fan of what they are doing!

  • I have to admit, I’ve never had sardines as anything but a flavor additive for dressing, sauces, etc. Is there a comparable fish or taste that you can share? I love the idea of serving up cheap, local fish. Seattle has no shortage of seafood, but I tend to stick with PNW staples- salmon, mussels, clams…a bit boring, I know which is why I’m curious about sardines!

  • Grilled sardines are also very good, just plop’em whole in a hot grill and in a few minutes its done

  • everytime I try to scale fish myself I always end up with scales flying up my nose. Not a pleasant feeling or smell!

    Yes, I would have bribed my fish guy to scale them for me!

  • Hi David:
    Sounds delicious. FYI, a lovely little neighborhood restaurant here in San Diego (Sea Rocket Bistro) is getting a great reputation for its grilled sardines. They’re even setting up a stall at a local farmers market to sell them. The ones they use are about five inches long so they use long skewers through the mouth into the body and put them on the grill. Squeeze a little lemon juice on them… Really delicious.

    Caron of San Diego Foodstuff
    http://www.sandiegofoodstuff.com

  • Two sardines?? You must really have a petit appetite! I would need at least 5 for my dinner!

  • Celia: If you’ve never had fresh sardines, you should give them a try. They’re not at all ‘fishy’ liked tinned varieties. Any small fish that can be filleted should work. To find what’s sustainable in the US, here’s a list from Seafood Watch. In France, there’s Pour une pêche durable.

    And normally in France, sardines are sold already filleted, too. In which case, this is one of the easiest & fastest dinners one can make.

    Izzy’s Mama: These were HUGE! Each fish was longer than my hand. I thought I’d only eat two, and save the other two fillets for lunch the next day. But they were so good, I ate them all!

  • grab a stainless steel spoon and rub your hands on it, wash with clear water. stainless steel kills all smells from your hands, no need to use soap, tooth paste or anything else.
    very fashionable people buy one “stainless steel soap bar” , e.g.

    http://www.uncommongoods.com/item/item.jsp?itemId=13111

    I love marinated sardines!

  • I just bought a few sardines the other day. Deep fried them whole and served it with some spicy sambal. I wash my hands with salt and lemon juice to get rid of the fishy smell.

  • Totally off topic here, but since it’s closed for comments…I finally made the candied peanut recipe last night. They came out fantastic; so fantastic that I didn’t bring any to work because I knew I’d eat all of them.

    I used almonds because I actually could not find raw peanuts, except at a farmer’s market. However, they were unshelled and I wasn’t that motivated.

    One note though is I saw someone commented on that recipe page that they could not get past the “sandy” stage; I had this same problem. The issue, for me, was that I turned the heat to low once the water seized, and it was just not hot enough to dissolve and caramelize the sugar. I turned it back to medium until the sugar started to dissolve and some syrup formed and all went smoothly after that.

  • Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe is a fabulous book that addresses the sustainable fishing issue without being preachy. During his research, Grescoe expected to stop eating fish, but instead found for every species he dropped off his list, he added several more — sardines included.

    The appendix alone makes this book worth owning.

    Thanks for raising this important issue.

  • The ocean is a big place, I really doubt that the fish supply is going to run out. I also don’t think that a few people who stop eating tuna will change the world. Eat what you like.

  • I love grilled sardines. I try to eat some everytime I’m in France (can’t get fresh ones here in Kansas). My Moroccan roomate in college used to pan fry them and eat them with Harissa and fried potatoes…delightful!!!

  • If we were so fortunate as to have a fishmonger (which we don’t in North Dakota), I would gladly pay him or her to clean the little fellas for me. It would be so worth it!

  • david said : The fillets are delicious draped on top of heavily-buttered bread.

    You’re SO right.
    (D’ailleurs, I must admit that I do not see what would NOT be delicious with heavily buttered bread, but sardines is indeed on the gourmets top list :D)

    when I read this post of yours about simple pleasures of the table, I instantly remember an image I loved when I was a child :D (http://img81.imageshack.us/img81/3282/legourmetyj2.gif) .

  • When the season starts here on the Canadian west coast, we line up early in the morning and buy them right off the boat. They cost 62 cents each. A friend of mine bought hers for $1 each at a retail store.
    We take them home and we put them in a slow cooker with tons of tomatoes, onions, tomato paste, sugar and vinegar, and at the end of the day, you get sardines with bones soft enough to eat. Yum!

  • Breadcrumbs! Of course! You’d think I would have learned by now that when in doubt, just cover whatever you’ve got in breadcrumbs. I’ve been avoiding cooking fish because of possibly stinking up the house, but I’ve got to try this method the next time I’m home alone.

  • Hmmm… given the weak dollar, 64c of sardines might actually be fourteen bucks for us leftponders.

  • you are a better person than i if you can forgo sushi … all the power to you! i do avoid the obvious species (e.g., atlantic cod, chilean seabass, etc) but i admit i’m in love with sushi. and halibut, which here in nyc, you can only get atlantic not the sustainable pacific species. sigh. okay, i promise to try to be better!!

  • Mimi: Well, I suppose if I lived somewhere where good sushi was more abundantly available, then I might have a harder time avoiding it. There are a few authentic places to get it, but a majority of the sushi in Paris is “industrial” tuna and salmon.

    (And raw salmon is something anyone might want to consider avoiding.)

    We’re so conditioned to eat pristine fillets of fish, like tuna and salmon steaks, which are (undeniably) easier to prepare, since moving to a country where there are lots of fish markets, I’ve been able to broaden my horizons. Although one needs to be suspect about certain fish in Europe, especially pangas.

    As we’re finding out during the current oil crunch, food shipped over long distances turns out to not always be such a good value in the long-run.

    The good news is that fish like sardines and mackerel not only taste good, but are good for you! And usually much cheaper, too.

  • Stunning pictures – I love the colours! Astonished that they were only 64c – but as you say, I would have paid double that not to have to deal with scales!!

    And no appearances/signings in Chicago this Fall?? I will be there for 2 weeks… what more reason could you possibly need?! ;-)

  • Thank you so much for the link on sustainable fish- I am printing out a pocket sized fish guide for the Southeast U.S. as I type. I love fish, but I want to make sure I’m doing all I can to prevent extinction of any species! Thank you for the recipe too- I’ll have to try it out!

  • Those are beautiful fish! I envy you your fishmonger……..and I love the recipe, with those crunchy, olive oiled crumbs, and the hint of garlic.

  • Celia– I’m in Seattle, and I’ve been getting Columbia River smelt for $2-$3/lb at QFC. I think they’re pretty similar in nature to sardines, but they’re small enough you don’t need to clean them (just eat ‘em whole–scales, innards, bones, heads and all are fully edible due to their small size and plankton diet). I bought them a while ago because they were so shiny and perky-looking (and a cheap experiment), and they were fabulous rolled in a bit of flour, fried in olive oil until golden and crispy, then dipped in a zingy chermoula!

  • Here in Nice we eat more than two sardines per person. And the fishmonger fillets them for us! But your tiny portion looked delicious.

  • Regarding raw salmon…It’s okay to eat if the fish is frozen first. It’s not fresh anymore, but it is safer. We couldn’t give it up thinly sliced, marinated in lemon juice, chopped onions, olive oil, salt and pepper and served with good bread.

    The sardine is amazing. My husband is addicted to canned sardines and eats them almost every afternoon as a snack with crackers or bread. He also leaves the oily can in the sink along with his plate. I’ve finally given up on chiding without result and now just wash them out so the kitchen doesn’t reek with that smell.

    I was, therefore, skeptical about fresh sardines. I ate them for the first time a few years ago at Rose Pistola restaurant in San Francisco. Wow! Since then I’ve made them (and cleaned them) many times, both fried and en escabeche.

    What a great discovery.

    Speaking of French fish, I’m now reading an article in the New Yorker about a French elephant, Babar, that says the stories are endorsements of French colonization of Africa. Haven’t read the whole thing.

  • Sardines are without doubt one of may favourite fish, Each year, they are nearly always the thing I cook first on the bbq. Then I eat them with some roast vegetables, green salad leaves, aioli and good bread. Oh, and wine.

  • Just as a note of interest, yesterday I bought 8 sardines that had already been de-scaled and de-boned. And they only cost €2.41. But even at the 400% mark up, I still thought they were a pretty good deal, too!

  • I’ve been wanting to eat more sardines just because they are supposed to be so dang good for you. I’m not crazy about the canned sardines we are most familiar with here in America. I tasted my first grilled sardine at a tapas restaurant in Brooklyn that makes them once a year for a street fair. I couldn’t believe how delicious they were grilled like that! I’ve since made Italian salsa verde and it was quite tasty.