I cannot think of a tinned product that has more of a cult following than sardines. Arguments rage about how long sardines should be aged in the can (yes, there are vintage sardines) and whether they should be Portuguese, French, Spanish, Chinese or Southeast Asian. In the Phillipines, I had the famous delicacy of the freshwater sardines from Lake Bombon, but after I saw the polluted lake I was unfairly prejudiced against the fish.
Let's not get into the whole debate about brislings versus sardines, but do read "Oules of Sardines", an article that Elizabeth David wrote for the Spectator in 1962. You can find it in her superb An Omelette and a Glass of Wine (1984). Or read Alan Davidson's essay "What Is A Sardine?", published in the Petits Propos Culinaires, No. 2 (August 1979), published by Prospect Books in London.
A plate of good quality, canned sardines is a fully satisfying dish that takes only 10 minutes to prepare. Eat them with horseradish, hot sauce, Meyer or salt-preserved lemons, or mayonnaise, but always with freshly grated onion.
SERVES 4 TO 6
2 cans sardines in olive oil or water
1 sweet onion (Walla-Walla, Vidalia, Maui or a fresh red one), peeled
4 leaves fresh mint
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh pepper
Hot toasted bread, English muffins or brioche
Finely grate the onion and chop the mint., and mix in a bowl with a pinch of salt and pepper. In another bowl, mix the olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour the oil or water off the sardines and put them on a plate. Pour the seasoned olive oil over them, turn them over in it several times, and serve on hot toast with the mint relish on top.
VARIATION: A bit over the top but amazing is toasted brioche slathered with ham mousse and then topped with sardines prepared as above.
Note: Easy, fun and highly informal recipe from Jeremiah Tower Cooks. Tower is a fascinating figure in many ways and this snippet imparts, I think, something essential about his taste and style, something people mentally caught up in the fancier trappings of the early Chez Panisse menus and the chic of Stars, might overlook. My favorite Tower contributions, actually, are the how-to/technique photo-essays in the Time-Life Good Cook series (where Tower assisted Richard Olney), which teach so much so well. Anyway, I love sardines and am told I should eat more of them by my doctor. No argument. I can't wait to try this recipe.
For More Sardines: See Here