I decided a few months ago that I’d better start adding more fish to my diet. I’ve read too much the past few years to avoid it anymore. Granted, that’s been tricky as hell to pull off considering how expensive seafood is generally (and how freaking unhealthy when it comes to the breaded shit in the freezer section… the grease on the pans and the lingering smell in the house makes me shudder just thinking about it).
Well, I’ve never really tried to do much with fish beyond those breaded fillets, popcorn shrimp, or canned tuna (which I get tired of pretty quickly). And restaurants are out of the question because of my financial diet and all. But I did some looking up and it hit me–what about canned?
I think I’d had canned salmon once ages ago, so I got a couple of cans. And then I remembered sardines.
I liked sardines as a kid. Sometimes I even wanted them for breakfast with saltine crackers and some cheddar cheese. Dunno why, but I’d eat ’em often when we weren’t picky about lunch or I just wanted something small to tie me over and mom was okay with it (full of protein and wouldn’t spoil dinner, so why not?). Dad would sometimes eat that as an afternoon snack before dinner, and I’d have some, too.
I think part of it was the packaging. Something about those tins felt fancy to me–a little self-contained meal. We didn’t eat frozen food much at all when I was a kid, so pre-packaged stuff was a novelty til the divorce happened and the freezer looked like a library with boxes stacked and sorted everywhere. And I think it was the key. The little key you pulled off and turned and it opened the can. Something was just neat about that.
Oh, and the “sardine fork” (I found out they’re for appetizers, generally, these days). We had a few of those tiny 5″ forks that were just the perfect size to grasp those little fishes. I think that appealed to my kid nature the most, having a perfect excuse to use those tiny forks.
Well, eventually new family came to live with me and dad, and they were totally grossed out by sardines. They couldn’t believe I ate ’em and made fun of me for ’em. And somehow, maybe through just hearing their annoyance and nastiness so often, I just lost my taste for them. I lost a lot of my culinary courage in those years, and courage of all kinds. My dad used to go duck hunting and I’d hold his kills up by the necks so he could take pictures. Now I can’t even picture myself touching one fresh from the taxidermist.
Makes me wonder how the hell I would’ve handled fish if he was more of a fisherman. I get squeamish watching Gordon Ramsay demonstrate how to handle a full fresh fish on camera. He makes it sound good, but I can’t stop staring at it.
Can’t even picture touching something like that to cook… especially with the head attached, and even if I was starving. And I’ve never once tried sushi. I’m so bloody squeamish thinking about it I probably never will.
I was a fearless little shit, and became a bored and fearful one when my freedoms became limited. And thanks to the overabundance of junk food suddenly in the house, things I used to love (sardines, broccoli, mushrooms, etc.) became gross to me. I got used to processed crap and so lazy with my eating habits. I also wasn’t allowed to cook (accidentally left a grilled cheese on the stove too long when I went to take care of something and was banned from using it without supervision–a job no one wanted to do) for a few years.
So, it became harder to find healthier alternatives, or re-find them without being grossed out. Took me a few tries in recipes to get to like spinach again in my 20s (I HATE canned spinach, but fresh is awesome and frozen more workable to me). Now, I have to figure out what to do with lean meats. Meat and seafood are freaking expensive (would suck up my grocery budget in no time flat), and admittedly I’m tired of trying to use chicken for everything meaty (or beans).
I’m trying to stave off that palate fatigue, which is where the canned seafood comes in.
So, I got some of the canned salmon and used it. I figured I’d see if I could cook with it and ended up getting a flatbread and making a pizza with spinach and salmon all over the top. And boy, it was great. I think I got a good protein-filled dish I can work with off and on (and it was pleasantly filling without making me feel fat, and lasted a few days–pizza is usually gone with in one with me). I found a salmon alfredo recipe I’m gonna tweak.
That left the sardines. I got a LOT of canned sardines because they were on sale and I noticed a lot of recipe possibilities. After my experiment with the salmon, I guess I got a bit trigger happy on the shopping button. I got both kinds: packed in olive oil and packed in water. I was used to eating the kind packed in water, but some things I read indicated the olive oil would be beneficial for the extra bits of good fats.
So, I grabbed a can of the kind with olive oil. I’m a bit bummed that I didn’t have an appetizer fork to eat it with (would’ve made cleaning out the corners easier, but I’ll eventually get some when I see a good deal online). I pulled the tab and opened the tin.
It’s definitely true how smell can bring up all kinds of memories up. That very light fishy tin smell was familiar and not unpleasant. I remembered the good times with my dad eating them, and how he’d pair ’em with saltines and cheddar cheese (which made me grab a few pinches of cheddar cheese, but I have no saltines. I’ll try Triscuit crackers with sea salt next time I get some from the store).
I ate next to the sink in case I found the taste suddenly revolting and had to spit it out. The sardines looked like I remembered, if darker thanks to the olive oil. I got the fork and pulled some away from the rest and took a small bite.
It was not bad at all. Strange, but very familiar. And I kept eating a bit more.
I remembered probably my least favorite aspect of sardines on the 3rd bite, the tiny backbone. I used to accidentally crunch into ’em when I didn’t catch them before and just swallowed most of the time because they were so small trying to separate ’em was pointless. Thinking about that texture against my tongue, though, made me nope the hell out. I separated the fish and hooked the bones with one of the fork tines, flicked ’em into a bowl to throw out later. Didn’t take a moment. The fish fell apart nicely.
I couldn’t bring myself to eat the whole tin and ended up giving the last sardine to my dogs (they loved it, too). I’d had some pretty lousy stomach issues the past few days that I’d been working around and didn’t wanna tempt fate. I polished it off with the cheddar cheese and am now looking for a grainy carb to follow this main course because otherwise my stomach will rumble that it’s starving in an hour.
I’m not gonna say sardines are the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten, but definitely something I can come back to when my taste buds get used to them a bit more. I’ll probably go for the ones packed in water next time for contrast (I think it was the oil I was wary about upsetting my stomach the most). But at least I feel I’ve made some progress experimenting with new options to put in my diet that won’t cost too much and will help up that protein without relying on beans or chicken so much. I’m just seeing what works, and will definitely need to get an apple or something in a minute to up those carbs before my stomach really hates me.
Yeah, strange how I’ve avoided sardines for nearly 30 years, and now they’re back in my cabinet. I’m eager to see what else I can do with them.