Most every office dweller has it. The bottom right drawer of their desk is where they keep their Stash. You know it – the snack drawer. Mine has peanut butter and kavli. Nuts. Iced Tea sachets. Bengal Spice Tea. Chocolate for The Bad Days. 

 But my friend and colleague, Rolf, has sardines in his drawer. Lets say that again: SARDINES! So when National Sardines Day came up on our list, I new that I had to blog about this day with Rolf’s help. Could little cans of oily fish really be Stash-worthy?  

 If you are like me, you maybe have only had sardines a few times in your life – or never at all. So here’s a few facts for the speed dating round of today’s post: 

  • The powers that be in the fishing industry cite 21 species that may be classed as sardines. 
  • Sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help maintain a healthy heart and reduces the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Sardines are also a good source of vitamin D, calcium, B12, and protein.
  • Happily for a tuna eater like me, Sardines are extremely low in contaminants such as mercury, as they are on the bottom of the food chain. 
  • Canned sardines in supermarkets here tend to be of two varieties – the “brisling sardine” or round herrings. Brislings are much smaller fish (smaller than your pinky) and are about 2-3 times the price of the same size can of the larger round fish (about the size of your thumb). 

 For National Sardines Day I made a sardine pasta – inspired by my love for anchovies in pasta. What follows below is my adaptation (improvement!) of this Epicurious recipe.   

I was fortunate to have two dining companions for this meal: Mr. Sardines himself, Rolf, and Rumon (who has previously guest blogged for 365foods). Rolf added to our salute to sardines by contributing a few cans of sardines for snacking and some triscuits (which we ultimately decided were too strong tasting – look for a plain cracker for your sardine snacking needs!). Rumon took himself off to the liquor store and after inquiring “what do you recommend for sardines?” came back with a bottle of Muscat. 

This dish was a success with the fellas – Rumon commented that he liked the sharpness of the flavors. Rolf ate his second serving after adding the leftover sardine oil from the snacking sardines. We all commented that this dish smells a LOT more pungent than it tastes, the flavors are surprisingly delicate. We decided that this dish made us think of a grotto restaurant carved out of a cave on an island in Italy, where you can hear the sea. The tables are covered in red and white checked cloths, there is a single candle on the table and a nice bottle of wine on hand. It’s simple but satisfying peasant food. 

The day’s surprise for me was that I liked the simple brisling sardine on crackers. They aren’t fishy, and the texture was soft but not too soft. In fact, maybe I’ll keep my last can of sardines in my Stash. 

Pasta with Sardines

This is a very quick pasta–not more than 20 min start to finish 

3/4 pound linguini
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup drained capers, patted dry
1 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from a baguette – powdery store bought ones won’t do!)
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
3 cans sardines in olive oil, two lemon, one hot pepper
4 garlic cloves
fresh lemon

 Cook linguini in a pasta pot of well- salted boiling water until al dente. This is not a saucy pasta dish, the noodles are front and centre, so it’s important to use good quality noodles. 

Meanwhile, heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Fry capers until they “bloom” and are just a shade darker, about 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Toast bread crumbs in same skillet, stirring, until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with capers, dill, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Open the sardine can and discard the oil from one of the lemon cans. If the hot pepper sardines have large pieces of jalapenos, remove them and chop finely. If you’re using regular (less expensive and larger) sardines, cut each sardine in half. If you’re using Brisling sardines, you can add them to the pan whole. 

Add sardines and peppers to skillet with their oil over medium-high heat, then force garlic through a garlic press into skillet. Gently sauté until sardines are golden in spots around edges, about 2 minutes. Much like anchovies, the sardines will start to break down with the heat, so you’ll have sardine bits at the end of this, not whole fish bodies.

Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta. Add pasta to skillet with cooking water and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Toss until pasta is coated and sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve topped with seasoned crumbs, and liberal amounts of fresh lemon and grated parmesan. 

Serves 3.