It was Sardinia, the Mediterranean island, which gave its name to the sardine in the 13th century. However, long before this, it was already widely fished, as it was always abundant and easy to catch. The Phoenicians preserved it in salt and it was pressed to extract the oil, which was used as a fuel to make light.
Alongside herring, with which it was often confused, sardines fed whole populations for many centuries.
The idea of sardines in cans was dreamt up in 1820 by Joseph Colin of Nantes. Inspired by the invention of sterilization (Nicolas Appert) ten years previously, he had the great idea of putting sardines in a tin can, thereby sterilizing them. At the time this was a luxury product, but then canned sardines gradually became more accessible during the 20th century, especially after World War I, when they were given to soldiers to meet their protein needs.
Perhaps because of their fairly strong flavor and smell, or perhaps because they were, and still are, a cheap fish, or maybe because they are difficult to work with, sardines have never really found a place in Michelin-starred kitchens.
A very fragile fish, sardines must have an intact stomach, no trace of blood on the head, a shiny firm body, and a pleasant sea smell.
An open belly means that it has been handled carelessly, and/or that it is no longer fresh.
Fresh sardines are sold by weight.
In France, canned sardines are classified into three categories: extra (1st category), choix (2nd category) and 3rd category. There is a wide range of options: in oil (olive or another type), in tomato sauce, with herbs, lemon, mustard, or spices, etc. The various added ingredients must be shown on the label. The date of canning is also given and, for some, the vintage (millésime).
They are also sold frozen, either whole (usually from China) or in double fillets with their skin.
Dried sardines are also available (from Asia).
The scales are removed from sardines, except when they are small and are going to be broiled: the scales protect their particularly vulnerable flesh, which cooks very quickly.
They are cleaned (and the gills are removed at the same time) and served whole or filleted.
The head is removed by pulling on the backbone: the two fillets remain attached by the tail and can be folded on top of one another.
Sardines can be breaded and deep fried, shallow fried, made into a gratin, or cooked en papillote. They can be cooked in an escabeche or stuffed, added to a fish soup or tagine, or marinated raw when extremely fresh. In Japan, they are used to make sashimi and tsumire (dumplings).
They go well with tomatoes, zucchini, and ratatouille.
During the Renaissance, Bartolomeo Scappi, cook to the Pope and author of the cookbook l'Opera, broiled then marinated them in olive oil with scallions, spices, and raisins
Canned sardines can be used to make rillettes or a stuffing for baby tomatoes or raw zucchini.
Fresh sardines will keep for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator or cold room between 2 and 4°C in their ice.
Canned sardines are stored at room temperature: sardines in oil must be turned over from time to time.
The sardine is an oily fish. Its fat mainly comprises unsaturated fatty acids (mono and polyunsaturated). It therefore contains Omega 3, especially when canned in oil.
Like all fish, sardines contain protein, B vitamins, and minerals.
There are various species of sardines, all very similar to one other.
Mediterranean Sardine (Sardina pilchardus sardina). The smallest and the least oily. The smallest ones, called Italian sardines, are generally 12–15 cm long, but they can sometimes grow up to 20 cm.
Atlantic sardine (Sardina pilchardus pilchardus) also called Sardine of Brittany or pilchard (especially when canned): bigger, it measures 20–25 cm.
Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax) also known as the California pilchard or Australian or South-American pilchard, blue sardine, Chilean sardine or Japanese pilchard. It lives throughout the Indo-Pacific basin and its length varies from 12–40 cm.
Sardines are caught in the spring and summer.