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Ask a New York history buff about Dorothy Parker or Chief Gowanus and you might hear a discourse on the legendary writer and wit or the leader of the Canarsie Native American tribe. Mention these names to a spirits enthusiast and instead you may be sidling up to a bar and sampling gins from the New York Distilling Company. This Brooklyn-based distillery produces both the Dorothy Parker American and Chief Gowanus New-Netherland gins.
Looking at history
Located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the New York Distilling Company is the brainchild of Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Tom Potter, his son Bill Potter and spirits and cocktails expert Allen Katz. The trio also own the adjacent, 850-square-foot bar and tasting room The Shanty, which overlooks the distillery’s production floor. This full-fledged bar serves mixed drinks made from the New York Distilling Company’s goods as well as other producers’ liquors and beer.
With the New York Distilling Company the men have set out to create exceptional American gins and rye whiskeys. They employ historical recipes for inspiration and the state of New York for their ingredients.
‘Golden era of cocktails’
“Gin and rye are appropriate for the geographic area,” says Bill Potter, master distiller and production manager. He points out that, prior to Prohibition, New York farm distilleries produced these intoxicants from locally grown grains and fruit. He adds, “They are part of the golden era of cocktails, the 1800s.”
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On the 78th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, Dec. 5, 2011, the distillery opened and began selling Dorothy Parker, Chief Gowanus and Perry’s Tot gins. Named for Matthew Calbraith Perry, 1840s commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and a founder of its Navy Lyceum, Perry’s Tot is a traditional navy strength gin.
“So much of what we think of as gin is only one type of gin, the London dry gin,” Potter says.
The juniper-driven London dry gin ranges between 40 to 45 percent alcohol by volume or 80 to 90 proof. Navy strength clocks in at 57 percent or 114 proof. Sometimes referred to as overproof, barrel strength or cask strength, this high alcohol gin imparts both balance and intensity to beverages.
Tapping into craft craze
According to Potter, the plan from day one was to release the gins first. By doing so, the rye whiskey could age for at least three years. To bottle it any sooner would mean that they were proffering a lightly aged, rather than straight, rye. This was not the goal for the distillery.
The timing of their gin and whiskey production couldn’t be better. The U.S. craft cocktail movement is in full swing and nowhere more so than in New York City. With its emphasis on handmade beverages featuring fresh and high quality ingredients, the craft cocktail craze has bartenders reaching for artisanal liquors to feature in their libations.
Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye
Craft producers such as the New York Distilling Company can only profit from this desire for artfully prepared and historically rooted drinks.
Harkening back to the pre-Prohibition period is the distillery’s October 2014 release of Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye. This much-anticipated spirit is the first among the New York Distilling Company’s upcoming rye whiskeys.
Historically, American bartenders created rock and rye by mixing rye whiskey with rock candy sugar syrup and the occasional citrus peel or spice. The goal of this late 19th-century combination was to temper the flavor of a young and unpalatable rye. The outcome was a sweet, amber-colored liquor called rock and rye that quickly became the go-to alcohol “for whatever ails you.”
Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye pays homage to this American standard. Yet, with its tang of sour cherries, warmth of cinnamon and hint of citrus, it stands to become a classic in its own right.
Adding straight rye whiskey
At the Shanty, head bartender Nate Dumas showcases Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye in such house creations as Cave Creek and Martini Robbins. The latter drink pairs Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye with the distillery’s Dorothy Parker American Gin and sweet vermouth. A versatile whiskey, Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye can also be enjoyed neat or on the rocks.
In September, Ragtime Rye will join Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye, Dorothy Parker, Chief Gowanus and Perry’s Tot on the roster of New York Distilling Company originals. Aged for more than three years in upstate New York, Ragtime Rye is the distillery’s first straight rye whiskey.
Recipes created by Nate Dumas, bar director, The Shanty at the New York Distilling Company
1¼ ounces Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye
1 ounce Glenlivet 12-year-old Scotch whisky
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce Real Grenadine
¼ ounce Campari
Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a collins glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with an lemon twist. Serve with a straw.
The Harper’s Ferry
1 ounce Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye
¾ ounce Pierre Ferrand cognac 1840
½ ounce Botran rum
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
Shake ingredients over ice and fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Lightly garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
Main photo: The New York Distilling Company also includes an 850-square-foot bar and tasting room at The Shanty. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt
May’s massive avian flu outbreak and the resulting egg shortage have many of us scrambling for breakfast alternatives. Those who don’t eat meat yet rely on eggs for protein are particularly hard-hit by this deficit. So, too, are fans of the fast and nutritious simplicity of cracking open a soft- or hard-boiled egg first thing in the morning.
To them and anyone wondering how to keep protein in their breakfasts without the use of eggs or meat, I suggest trying these global dishes.
A staple of Danish cuisine, rugbrød is a hearty, rectangular-shaped, oat- and seed-flecked brown bread. Although usually featured in smorrebrød or an open-faced sandwich, it also makes an appearance on the breakfast table. When served with cheese, smoked fish, fruit preserves or even on its own, rugbrød offers a filling and protein- and fiber-rich start to any day. It contains as much as 9 grams of protein in each slice.
Imagine you’re in continental Europe and do as the Europeans do: Indulge in some cheese with your dawn coffee or tea. High-protein cheeses include such familiar favorites as Parmesan, goat, mozzarella, Gruyere and cheddar. One ounce of these cheeses provides between 8 grams and 11 grams of protein. Pair your morning cheese with slices of rugbrød for an especially lavish treat.
If you’re fond of either the United Kingdom or seafood, you may want to start your day with a plate of savory, protein-filled, omega-3-rich kippers. Known as the king of the English breakfast, the kipper is the mildest of all smoked herring. It has starred in British breakfasts since the mid 19th century. Cooked and then served on buttered toast, kippers are an inexpensive yet nutritious way to kick off the day. A 2-ounce serving has 14 grams of protein.
Not of fan of smoked foods but still crave a flavorful protein for your morning meal? Reach for Scandinavian gravlax. Similar to smoked fish, this salt-cured salmon was born from the need to store seafood in a time when refrigeration did not exist. Thanks to 24 to 48 hours of macerating in salt, sugar and dill, gravlax possesses a velvety texture and luxurious taste. It also has a long history of feeding the hungry in the wee hours of the day. A 2-ounce serving of gravlax contains 10 grams of protein.
Less common but no less delicious than granola, muesli consists of rolled oats, sliced nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts, dried apricots, raisins and bran, wheat germ or seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower. With 8 grams of protein in a 3-ounce serving, this Swiss creation provides a wholesome, protein-packed breakfast with every bite. If you want a bit more complexity, add fresh fruit or honey to your muesli. You can also replace the usual milk on your cereal with yogurt.
Beans on toast
The British Council reports that the United Kingdom consumes more than 90 percent of the world’s canned baked bean supply. Thus, it’s not surprising that another quintessential English offering consists of baked beans spooned over toasted bread. Warm, tartly sweet and with 7 grams of protein per half-cup, beans on toast is a delectable and decidedly British breakfast dish.
With 10 grams of protein per half-cup, the low-calorie soybean curd known as tofu affords not only healthful eating but also versatile cooking. Its benign, mildly nutty taste goes with countless ingredients, plus it performs well with a variety of cooking techniques. It can be scrambled; baked in a quiche; sautéed with vegetables, herbs or spices and served in a wrap; made into a spread; or puréed in a smoothie. The uses of tofu are almost limitless.
Nuts and nut spreads
People around the globe consume nuts and nut spreads as part of their morning routines. At 6 grams of protein per 1-ounce serving, almonds and pistachios rank the highest in protein, followed by walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews and Brazil nuts. As you may know, the familiar peanut is a legume and not a nut. Nonetheless, at 7 grams per 1-ounce serving, peanuts beat the aforementioned nuts for greatest protein content in a nut spread.
Part of both British and North American cuisines, cottage cheese is unripened and unpressed cow’s milk cheese. While mild in flavor, it is surprisingly rich in protein. A mere 4 ounces of cottage cheese contains 13 grams of protein. Pair this subtle food with pumpkin seeds or chopped dried apricots for an especially tasty and nourishing repast.
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Main photo: A bowl of muesli with fresh fruit and yogurt. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt
As a seafood lover, writer and cook, I’ve lost track of the number of times people have asked me how to prepare delicate, flaky fish. This group includes the wildly popular tilapia, as well as flounder, sole and, my personal favorite, trout. Mild yet unusually complex in flavor and easy to cook, trout is the country’s oldest and most successful example of aquaculture. Rich in protein, vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids, it provides numerous delights with each bite.
A relative of salmon, trout ranges in color from silvery green to coppery brown and with orange-red, brown or black spots scattered over its skin. Influenced by diet and habitat, its delicate flesh runs from cream to red in color. In terms of size, it grows up to 50 pounds in the wild. Farm-raised trout weigh between 8 and 16 ounces.
Common trout species
Several species of trout exist. If you are or happen to know or are related to serious trout anglers, as I am, you may have access to brown and sea trout. Although the same species, brown trout reside in rivers while sea trout spend time in oceans. They both possess copper skin and pale pink flesh.
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Then there is steelhead. Sometimes confused with salmon, this species has reddish flesh and a flavor reminiscent of salmon. Highly versatile, it can stand in for salmon in recipes. Classified as a sport fish, wild steelhead cannot be sold in markets. What you see in your fishmonger’s case or on restaurant menus is a product of aquaculture.
The most recognizable species may be the beautiful, multicolored rainbow trout. Adorned with a hot pink or coral stripe running from head to tail on both sides and a smattering of black spots, this striking fish ranges in body color from yellow to blue-green. When caught in the wild, rainbow trout have a pronounced nutty taste. The farm-raised version is milder in flavor and has creamy white to pink flesh.
Another name that may sound familiar is brook or speckled trout. Considered by many to be the best-tasting trout, this fish isn’t actually a trout. Instead it’s a type of char.
Tips for buying trout
At markets, trout is sold whole and as fillets. When shopping for this fish, you should look for shiny skin, bright eyes, moist flesh and a fresh, clean smell. Whole trout should have a layer of transparent slime over it; the more slime, the better and fresher the fish will be.
Whole trout tends to have more flavor than boned fillets. The only downside is that you may have to take out the tiny pin bones. However, you can always ask the fishmonger to do this for you.
Rainbow trout may be marketed as golden trout. Occasionally it gets mislabeled as steelhead. Just remember that steelhead has a bolder coloring than rainbow trout.
How to cook trout
When cooking trout, my go-to methods are pan searing, grilling or smoking. In the case of pan searing, I heat a smidgen of olive oil in a nonstick frying pan. Once the oil is hot, I place the fillets skin-side down in the pan. As soon as their edges turn ivory in color and flake when probed with a fork, about 2 to 3 minutes, I gently turn over the fish and allow the fillets to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. That’s all it takes to pan sear trout.
A fast-cooking fish, trout also does well when baked, broiled, poached or steamed. No matter which cooking method I choose, I leave the skin on the trout. It will hold the meat together as the fish cooks.
Flavor pairings for trout
Trout’s nutty taste marries with myriad foods. Apples, carrots, celery, oranges, scallions, shallots and tomatoes partner well, as do mint, tarragon and thyme. It is also enlivened by a splash of cider, lemon juice or wine or a sprinkling of crumbled bacon or sliced olives. Almonds, pecans, pine nuts and walnuts make delicious coatings for this fish. Even so, I often prepare trout in a simple manner: With a mere sprinkle of salt and pepper and drizzle of olive oil or lemon juice, the fish will shine.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch rates U.S. farm-raised rainbow trout as an “eco-best” seafood choice because it is raised in an environmentally sound manner. Low in mercury, it can be safely consumed at least four times per month.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 6 minutes
Total time: 11 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
4 (6-ounce) trout fillets
Handful of Cerignola olives, roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste (optional)
1. Heat the olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. As the oil is heating, season the trout fillets with salt and pepper.
2. Lay the trout skin-side down in the hot pan. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the borders begin to turn ivory in color and the fish flakes when probed with a fork. Gently turn over the fillets and allow the fish to cook on the other side for 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Place the fillets on plates. Cover the tops with equal amounts of chopped olives. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the olives, if desired. Serve hot.
Main photo: Trout is a versatile and sustainable seafood choice. Credit: Copyright iStockPhoto
Nestled in its elegant, fan-shaped shell, the lustrous and translucent scallop is one of the ocean’s greatest beauties. When removed from its protective housing and placed in a hot pan, grill or oven, it transforms into one of the culinary world’s most delectable foods.
Thanks to its plump and juicy yet firm flesh, mildly sweet flavor, ease of preparation and overall sustainability, this bivalve has become one of my go-to seafood choices.
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When talking about scallops, I usually mean sea scallops. I most often see this type in refrigerated seafood cases and on restaurant menus. Larger than the other category of scallops, bay scallops, they range in size from 1 1/2 inches to 9 inches in diameter. They are farmed on coastlines around the world and harvested year-round, making them widely available and relatively affordable.
Their tiny relation, the bay scallop, grows to only a half-inch in diameter. Sweeter and more tender than sea scallops, the bay scallop is less common and, as a result, costs considerably more.
Whether classified as bay or sea, all scallops filter feed on plankton. To do this, they draw in particle-filled water, strain out the plankton for consumption and then push out the cleaned water. They share this tidy method of eating with clams, mussels and oysters, the other members of the bivalve family.
Scallops score high on sustainability
The ability to filter impurities from water means scallops are considered eco-friendly creatures. Their lack of dependence on fish feed and predilection for eating from the bottom of the food chain further increases their good environmental standing. Good for the environment and likewise safe for consumption, they can be enjoyed by both children and adults at least four times a month.
Unquestionably, I appreciate the scallops’ solid sustainability rating. What I also like is how little effort is needed to prepare them. Unlike other bivalves, I never have to shuck a bunch of scallops.
Simple ways to boost scallops’ flavor
Because their shells never close completely, scallops spoil easily. To avoid the risk of spoilage, fishermen shuck the scallops right after harvesting them. Everything but the meaty abductor muscle — and, if you live outside the U.S., the orange-colored roe sack — is discarded.
U.S. consumers know the pearly abductor muscle as a scallop; in America this is what we cook and eat. Elsewhere people have the choice of buying and cooking scallops with or without the roe intact. Having tried it both ways, I have to vouch for the use of the rich, slightly salty roe. It adds complexity to and also balances out the scallop’s mildly sweet flavor.
Because I don’t have the option of including the roe, I sometimes toss in an extra ingredient or two to boost the scallops’ taste. Herbs such as basil, chervil, parsley, tarragon and thyme and seasonings such as cayenne, black and white pepper, salt, brandy, vinegar and dry white wine complement this shellfish. So, too, do avocados, bell peppers, carrots, chilies, corn, garlic, ginger, shallots, lemons, limes, mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes. This is a companionable and versatile seafood.
Tips for buying scallops
When shopping for scallops, I consider odor, color and luster. The flesh should smell sweet rather than pungent or fishy. It should have a bright sheen and appear somewhere between pale pink and light beige in color. Unless soaked in a solution, which increases its weight and, therefore, cost, a scallop will not appear bright white.
Additionally, the meat should not look flabby but instead be firm and well formed. Floppiness or limpness is another sign the shellfish has been languishing in liquid. Because I don’t want to pay more for less and, more important, buy seafood that’s been bathing in preservatives, I ask my fishmonger for dry-packed or untreated scallops.
Lastly, I request either diver-caught sea scallops from Mexico or farmed sea scallops; as you might suspect from the name, diver-caught indicates a diver has hand collected the bivalves from the ocean floor. Both methods of harvesting have low environmental impact.
Because I’m one of those uptight buy-right-before-cooking cooks, I tend to prepare my scallops as soon as I return from the market. If I have to deviate from this practice, I immediately refrigerate the scallops. They will keep for up to two days in the refrigerator.
When cooking scallops, I have a plethora of techniques at my disposal. These include sautéing, pan searing, grilling, broiling and poaching. Along with serving them on their own, I’ve put them in gratins, seafood pies, stir-fries, ceviches, tartares and stews. Light and flavorful, they are a wonderful, all-purpose seafood.
This spring enliven your cooking with simple, tasty scallops. They’re good, and good for you!
Pan-Seared Scallops With Sherry Vinegar Reduction
This recipe is from “Fish Market” (Running Press, 2013) by Kathy Hunt.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 scant tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 cup sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound large sea scallops
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
1. In a small frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium. Add the minced shallot and sauté until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
2. Pour the sherry vinegar into a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and stir in the brown sugar and shallots. Simmer until the liquid has thickened and reduced to 1/2 cup or 1/3 cup. When finished, the sauce will be syrupy in texture. Set aside. (Note: You may want to reheat this slightly before dressing the cooked scallops with it.)
3. In a large, nonstick frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil on high. Add the scallops, season with salt and pepper and reduce the heat to medium-high. Sear the scallops until brown on the bottom. Flip them over and fry the other side until browned. Depending on the size of your scallops, the cooking time will take between 6 to 8 minutes total.
4. Place the scallops on the dinner plates. Drizzle the shallot-sherry vinegar reduction over the scallops. Serve immediately.
Main photo: Pan-Seared Scallops With Sherry Vinegar Reduction. Credit: Copyright Kathy Hunt
Think St. Patrick’s Day is all about chugging green beer and minty shakes and sporting avocado-colored sweaters, emerald top hats and Kiss Me, I’m Irish or Erin Go Bragh T-shirts? Think again.
In Ireland, where St. Patrick lived and died, the day stands for far more than carousing in garish clothing. It is a day of cultural and religious significance with nary a dyed beer or milkshake in sight.
As an insatiable traveler married to an Irish-American and fellow redhead, I’ve experienced my share of St. Patrick’s Days in Ireland. Whether I’m in a major city such as Dublin or rural village in County Clare, I never miss a parade. Although New York City receives credit for holding the first St. Patrick’s Day parade, way back in the 18th century, Ireland wholeheartedly embraces this festive event.
St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland a family affair
Depending upon the locale, I’ve watched processions of marching bands, costumed dancers and professionally made balloons as well as festooned farm tractors, hand-painted banners and homemade floats. No matter where I am, one thing remains constant: the large number of families in attendance, cheering on the participants.
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Along with seeing parades, visiting fairs and listening to live music, families in Ireland go to church services on St. Patrick’s Day. The patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick served as the country’s bishop during the fifth century and is credited with helping convert the Irish to Christianity. On the Emerald Isle, the date of his death, March 17, is a religious and public holiday.
In his teachings St. Patrick used the shamrock to represent Christianity’s Holy Trinity. Today, as a symbol of their belief, the devout continue to pin these three-leaf clovers to their clothing. So much for my silly childhood belief that shamrocks went together with leprechauns the way that rainbows came with pots of gold or chips accompanied fish.
Food likewise plays a prominent role on St. Patrick’s Day. In the past, pubs remained closed on this holy day. With the public houses shuttered, family and friends would gather in homes to share simple, wholesome meals.
Then as now, potatoes starred in a variety of dishes, including the pancake known as boxty. They remain the primary ingredient in the mash of cabbage or kale and potatoes called colcannon and mash of scallions and potatoes called champ.
Potatoes also feature in meaty cottage and shepherd’s pies, boiled bacon and cabbage, Irish stew and, a personal favorite, potato soup.
For me, nothing says wholesome, Irish cooking like a bowl of hot, savory potato soup. It’s the perfect warmup for a brisk and damp March day spent outdoors at a parade or fete.
In a country surrounded by water, it comes as no surprise that seafood appears on holiday menus. Although outsiders tend to reduce Ireland’s fish specialties to breaded and deep-fried cod or haddock served with chips and peas, Irish cooks serve far more than this greasy — albeit tasty — mainstay. Cockle soup, seafood chowder, smoked haddock potpie, steamed mussels and cod cakes are among the country’s wondrous seafood dishes.
Contrary to the American custom of drinking green-colored ales on St. Patrick’s Day, in Ireland people usually reach for dark, smoky stouts. Originally just a stronger version of a porter, stout has become a category of its own for many beer connoisseurs. With its creamy texture, full-bodied flavor and rich mouthfeel, it leaves consumers fully satisfied. Drink of pint of hearty stout and you’ll feel as though you’ve consumed your St. Patrick’s Day meal in one glass.
Probably no stout is more renowned or available globally than Guinness. Yet, Ireland does have other stout brands, including the Cork-based Murphy’s and Beamish, both of which have been acquired by the Dutch beer company Heineken.
This St. Patrick’s Day, skip the green clothing, tinted drinks and boozy benders. Instead, celebrate the authentic Irish way — with good food, family and fun.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Yield: Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
7 ounces leeks, washed and sliced
1 pound, 10 ounces russet potatoes, washed, peeled and chopped
7 cups chicken stock
Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
1. In a large stockpot melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until softened and translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, stir to combine and cook for another 1 minute.
2. Pour in the chicken stock, raise the temperature to medium-high and bring the soup to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 25 to 30 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and leeks are translucent.
3. Turn off the heat. Add salt and ground black pepper to taste.
4. Using either an immersion or traditional blender, puree the soup until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Serve hot.
Main photo: Although they may seem as whimsical as leprechauns, shamrocks hold special religious significance in Ireland. The three-leaf clovers symbolize the holy trinity as taught by the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick. Credit: Copyright Sean Dippold
Growing up with a father who suffered from cardiovascular disease, I learned at an early age how to eat healthfully. Hot dogs, fried chicken and steaks rarely graced our dinner table. Instead, we ate boatloads of low-fat and vitamin- and mineral-rich seafood, grains and produce.
Among the fish we consumed, sardines still top my list of favorite heart-healthy foods. Available in fresh and canned forms, these oily fish are chock-full of flavor and omega-3 fatty acids.
What’s so great about omega-3s? According to the American Heart Association, these fatty acids lessen the risk of abnormal heartbeats and reduce high triglyceride levels that may contribute to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. They also have a positive impact on high blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health.
“It has long been appreciated that societies who eat diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have a lower incidence of heart disease. For example, prior to the western influences of fast-food chains, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia had a diet predominantly of fish and had very low heart disease rates. We discovered that one of the main components of the fish diet that was beneficial was omega-3,” says Dr. Paul Checchia, director of cardiovascular care at Texas Children’s Hospital.
Along with sardines’ wholesomeness, I love these petite, iridescent fish for their versatility. They go well with an array of other heart-healthy foods, including spinach, tomatoes, red bell peppers, carrots, walnuts, oranges, raisins, kidney beans, black beans and whole grains. They also partner with other omega-3-rich seafood such as anchovies.
Sardines lend themselves to many preparations, flavor pairings
When fresh, sardines can be grilled, broiled, baked, poached, sautéed or marinated. Their dark, oily flesh responds well to direct heat, making them the perfect fit for barbecues and charcoal grills.
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Their bold flavor likewise engenders them to simple preparations. Sprinkle ground black pepper, vinegar or citrus juice over your cooked sardines and, in a snap, you’ve got a delicious repast.
Although they tend to be overlooked by today’s home cooks, sardines have a long and storied culinary past. Named for the island Sardinia, where they were found in abundance, they have supported generations of European fishermen.
Sardines live in both Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In fact, from the 1920s through the 1940s, they served as the backbone of America’s largest, most profitable Pacific Coast fisheries. Monterey, California’s, famed Cannery Row owes its success to sardines.
Canned sardines, in turn, owe their existence to the French and Napoleon Bonaparte, who needed a way to store and transport protein-rich rations for his troops. Through the ingenuity of French brewer Nicolas Appert and British merchant Peter Durand, sardines became the first canned fish and one of the first canned foods.
The French weren’t the only ones to benefit from sardine canning. In the 20th century these 10- to 14-inch fish fed American soldiers during two world wars. They also provided jobs for vast numbers of workers.
As is often the case, rampant popularity led to the sardine’s downfall. Overfishing and the ocean’s natural growth cycle depleted the supply. Without sardines in the supermarkets, shoppers turned to canned tuna for cheap, portable and easy-to-prepare meals.
In recent years sardine populations have rebounded in the Pacific. This is wonderful news for environmentally minded, health-conscious consumers. As small-sized bottom feeders who eat plankton, sardines don’t take on heavy metals and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) as other fish do. Low in contaminants and high in protein, vitamins B-12 and D, and omega-3s fatty acids, Pacific sardines have been deemed a “best choice” by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.
When shopping for sardines, I have the option of fresh or canned. With fresh sardines, I look for shiny, silvery skins; plump bodies; bright eyes; and firm, pinkish, moderately oily flesh.
Because these fish are fatty, they spoil easily. To ensure my sardines are safe to eat, I do a quick sniff test. If a sardine smells overly fishy or pungent, I skip that fish. Highly perishable, sardines should be cooked the day of purchase.
Packed in thick, clear oil, canned sardines possess expiration dates and should be consumed accordingly. Until I’m ready to use them, I store the cans in a cool spot in my kitchen and periodically flip them so all the fish are coated in oil.
If you peek into my kitchen cupboard, you’ll invariably see at least two tins of sardines tucked in there. I use them in everything from bread spreads and vegetable dips to pastas and pissaladières. When I crave an especially heart-healthy entrée, I make the following dish, Sardinian Tomatoes. Featuring lycopene– and beta-carotene-rich tomatoes; fiber- and iron-packed barley; vitamin C- and A-filled red bell peppers; and, of course, sardines, it’s a delightfully nutritious meal.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 8 stuffed tomatoes
8 large, ripe tomatoes
1 red bell pepper
1/2 small red onion
8 ounces canned sardines, drained and patted dry
1 1/2 cups cooked barley
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for greasing the baking dish
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a large baking dish with olive oil and set aside.
2. Slice off the tops of the tomatoes. Scoop out the seeds, leaving an inch of flesh inside the tomatoes.
3. Dice the red pepper and onion. Slice the sardines into bite-sized chunks and put them, along with the pepper and onion, into a mixing bowl. Add the barley to the bowl.
4. Roughly chop the parsley. Add it, the thyme and black pepper to the bowl and toss to combine. Drizzle the lemon juice and half of the olive oil over the mixture and toss again.
5. In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs, granulated onion and salt. Add the remaining olive oil and stir until all the crumbs are coated.
6. Put equal amounts of sardine-barley stuffing into each tomato, filling each to the top. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the filling. Place the stuffed tomatoes in the baking dish and bake, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened slightly and the crumbs have browned. Remove and serve warm.
Main photo: Sardinian Tomatoes. Credit: Kathy Hunt