Sad Sardine Story

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Dear Readers,
Sometimes life disappoints. Today’s post is about such a disappointment. Who would have thought buying five pounds of sardines would be a bad idea? Me, kind of. But, as the husband mentions, they were such a steal, it was hard to pass up. What the husband doesn’t mention below, is the worst part about the entire cooking experience, the sardines were not cleaned in any way. So, I spent the better part of an hour, scaling and gutting these tiny, stinkers. I had pretty much lost my appetite before they went into the oven.

But, there’s a lesson to be learned here, some things are better in a can, or a restaurant. Smell ya later, sardines.

I hope you enjoy the husband’s story of sardines. And I've added some photos of Viggo to balance out all the fishiness.  

- KK

I eat sardines. Lots of canned sardines. Smoked, in water, tomato, mustard, or harissa sauce; purchased from Trader Joes, the Mexican market, wherever. When they’re deboned and placed in a tin, it’s nice, but I’m just as happy saving the extra 50 cents to a dollar for such luxury, and picking out the boney spine myself. According to most marine researchers, my taste in these non-predatory fish helps eco-balance the ocean, since they’ve been flourishing as a result of our overfishing of tuna, salmon, and sharks for the past 50 years. I take a minor satisfaction in that.

Eco-consumption aside, it’s probably my fascination with Italian recipes—sardine pasta particularly— that peeked my interest in seeking out fresh sardines. Not long after this resolution, all the food magazines were talking about the noble sardine, displaying several recipes that used fresh ones. I was inspired by the articles, until I discovered that no stores around me sell them fresh. So I kept to the can, doing my part to save the world by eating at least two tins a week.
One day, on the front page of a mailed advertisement from Super King (the mega pan-ethnic supermarket near us), the wife noticed a deal for a box of frozen sardines. They weren’t fresh, per se, but flash frozen was close enough for me. The price was even more enticing at five pounds of fish for only $4.50. Fearing they’d be sold out, we rushed over and purchased a box. At home, the wife and I split the five pounds into separate freezer bags, noticing that even in a frozen state, they were supremely odorific. With so many frozen fish packed away, we dreamed up a future sardine party that only a select group of friends would be invited to. But before getting too far ahead of ourselves with party planning, we prudently thought we should try out a recipe.

The wife found a warm fennel and carrot slaw that’s roasted with sardines for our trial recipe. After the prep work, the pan went into the oven, and an intense aroma started spreading from the kitchen, like a slow moving fog. Now, I’ve become inured to the smell of canned sardines. Because I can tell it disgusts others, I normally exile myself to outside corners to eat sardines. There was no escape here. Once this dish was in the oven, it began to perfume the house in what I can only describe as the aroma of pier sink. You know, those sinks where anglers gut their catch. Or maybe the far corner of a lake where fish go to die and decompose. Despite the olfactory intensity, I prepared myself to the sardine stink by comparing it to ripe cheese. 

When we finally sat down to the meal, the sardines looked appetizing on top of the slaw. While the wife snapped a photo of her plate, it looked similar to many of the recipe pictures I had seen, which was a good sign. And, the roasted slaw was great. But then we got to the sardines. Or rather, we tried to get to the sardines, but were prevented by an impenetrable network of bones. Bones caught in my throat, got stuck in my teeth. Dinner became a chore, and the already strong tasting fish became less and less enjoyable with the amount of work it took just to get a decent bite. The meal didn’t work.  I barely finished my plate, the wife picked around the fish to get at the vegetables.
Still, part of me doesn’t even want to blame sardines in general. Just these sardines. Maybe real fresh sardines that cost more than a dollar a pound might have changed the course of the meal. Although, the plus side of paying $.80 per pound for fish is that throwing them out isn’t terribly tragic. And perhaps, if justified correctly, I’m still helping the ocean maintain its balance.

(And now, here's Viggo, doing little Viggo things that makes us smile.)
 Cake inspector.
 Loves to yell, "DONE!" after finishing his food. And he now takes his plate to the kitchen, which is seriously cute.
 Cooking at the library.
Wine tasting pro. Two wine trips before two.

And just in case anyone is interested in recreating this recipe, you can find it here: www.saveur.com/article/recipes/olive-oil-braised-sardines-with-fennel

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