Offer canned fish to someone who hasn’t tried it before and the reaction you receive may be, “Why are you trying to make me eat cat food?”
While it may be the newbie’s impression, it’s ill-informed and displays a total lack of understanding for the finer things in life. Some of the world’s finest foods may not be pretty to look at, but they are delicious. Yes, sardines are little fish packed in a can like … well … sardines.
Canned sardines have always been a great camping food because you get a lot of nutrition and flavor packed in a small space. Sardine cans pack neatly in corners of your pack, cooler, or camp box where almost nothing else will fit. They are great for snack time, as the main course of a quick lunch on the run, and as ingredients in other dishes such as salads and the like. Even in the days before the pop top made the move from beer cans to sardine tins, the sardine can always offer the camping advantage of self-opening even when you forgot your P-38 or your Swiss Army Knife. Sardine tins came with their own attached key you used to roll the lid right off the can.
Canned tuna is much closer to the cat food consistency than smoked and tinned sardines. And in these days of worrying about mercury and other toxins collected by ocean fish, sardines offer another bonus. Tuna and, to a lesser extent, salmon are not harvested until they are a large size which has taken them years to attain. This allows a much longer period for them to collect toxins in their systems than sardines which are harvested smaller and younger. Yet, sardines are also high in the highly desirable Omega 3 fatty acids which are important for human health.
Though you can eat canned tuna and salmon without much additional preparation, they don’t match the versatility of sardines as a meal on the go. Sardines come regularly packed in oil, mustard, tomato sauce, or with other flavor elements like Louisiana Hot Sauce. All you need are maybe some crackers and the tip of a pocketknife to dig right in. If you’re in the right place to do so, wash it down with icy water dipped straight from the spring, and you can’t find a more delicious, “this is camping” kind of lunch.
Don’t be afraid to try sardines of any “flavor” as an ingredient in salads or other dishes. We’ll offer up a recipe for an improvised pasta sauce that will open your eyes to the versatility of sardines as a delicious ingredient in campfire dishes.
- 8 oz. of dry pasta (spaghetti, capellini, or vermicelli)
- 2 strips bacon
- 1 4 oz. can of sardines in olive oil
- 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic; peeled, smashed, and minced
- 1 medium onion
- ½ cup light to medium beer
- ½ tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
- ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
- Dash of Tabasco sauce (optional), to taste
- Additional olive oil, to taste
- Juice from ½ fresh lemon
- Grated parmesan cheese, to taste
- Boil pasta in ample salted water until it's cooked just short of where you like to eat it.
- Drain, reserving at least ½ cup of the pasta water. Set aside covered to retain heat.
- Heat large skillet over medium high heat. Fry bacon to crisp. Chop and set aside.
- Add the 3 Tbsp. olive oil to the skillet and bring up to temp.
- Sautee onions, then garlic.
- Deglaze skillet with beer and half reserved pasta water. Scrape all flavor bits off the bottom.
- Bring to simmer and reduce slightly.
- Break up sardines by hand into skillet. Be sure to include all the oil from the sardine tin. Add red pepper flakes, black pepper and Tabasco.
- Add additional reserved water as needed.
- Place pasta in skillet on top of sauce and toss.
- Add additional olive oil to taste and squeeze lemon over sauced pasta being careful to strain off the seeds.
- Sprinkle parmesan on top.
- Serve with crusty Italian garlic bread.