(Video credit: Heidi Hudson)

By: Sophika Kostyniuk

It is said that Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was the first person to help popularize these little fish by establishing the original fish cannery to feed the citizens of the land over which he presided.

Sardines are named after the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where they lived in abundance at one time, but the name sardine is actually applied to dozens of small pelagic (or open sea) fishes of the herring family.

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Pacific sardines are filter feeders, sieving plankton from the water as it passes between their gills. They're a migratory species, annually moving northward into Canadian waters during the summer to feed, and returning to California spawning areas in the fall.

Extremely popular in the United States in the 20th century, sardines are now making a comeback as people realize they are an incredibly rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D and that, because they are small fish at the bottom of the food chain, they are not as likely to contain concentrated amounts of contaminants such as mercury and PCBs.

Rated as a SeaChoice "Best Choice", and a Monterey Bay Aquarium "Super Green" choice for your health and the planet's, you can feel good about choosing this versatile fish year-round.

When you buy fresh sardines, look for ones that smell fresh, are firm to the touch and have bright eyes and shiny skin. Fresh sardines are very perishable, so be sure to refrigerate them to prevent spoilage, and eat them within a day or two. Try out our delicious recipe below and be amazed by the incredibly rich flavour of this little fish.

Canned sardines have a long storage life that can be extended by turning the can every now and then to ensure that all parts of the sardines are exposed to the liquid in which they are packed. For canned sardines packed in oil, gently rinse them under water to remove excess oil before serving with your choice of onions, fennel, basil, oregano, lemon or balsamic, or try out some new flavour pairings.

Don't forget to use the free SeaChoice iPhone App for the most current sustainable seafood information.

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Charmoula Grilled Sardines
From Karen Barnaby, chef, product and business development, for Albion Fisheries. Former executive chef at the Fish House in Stanley Park.

Prepared Sardines with Charmoula on a plate

Serves 4
Sardines go very well with the big, bright and tangy flavours of charmoula, a Moroccan marinade.

  • 8 large, fresh whole sardines, scaled and gutted
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon (4 mL) sea salt
  • 2 Tablespoons (30 mL) red wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cumin seeds
  • Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Score both sides of the sardines in 3 places, evenly spaced. Place the sardines in a single layer in a nonreactive dish. Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl, pour over the sardines and turn the sardines to coat with the mixture. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, for 1 hour.

To broil, heat the broiler on high and place the sardines and any marinade in the dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Place 6-inches or so from the heat and broil until the skin is browned and crispy, about 3 — 4 minutes. With a thin bladed turner gently turn the fish over and broil the other side until done, another 3-4 minutes

To grill, heat the grill to high then lightly oil the grill grate. Place the fish on the grill presentation side down. Grill until the skin is browned and crispy, about 3 — 4 minutes. With a thin bladed turner gently turn the fish over and grill the other side until done, another 3-4 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

August 27, 2013

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Aug 27, 2013
12:08 PM

I’m concerned about radioactivity in Pacific fish now… Any thoughts on this would be appreciated. Is there a farm raised sardine?

Aug 28, 2013
2:27 PM

Excellent recipe !

Perhaps you could fix a batch for us Sophika.

Love, Dad and Mom.xoxo

Aug 30, 2013
8:22 AM

I was about to send in the exact same question as Erin, and then I saw hers.

I am wondering the same, given that reports are coming out that we should eat no pacific seafood now due to Fukishima contamination.

Are there other sustainable wild sources?

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