Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sardines are the new tuna

My friend Shane tipped me off to a new trend in canned fish products. Apparently tuna is out and sardines are in -- partly because they are smaller and younger they are less prone to heavy metal contamination. There's even a website for sardine recipes. I have always maintained, and a lot of people agree with me, that canned sardines should not be opened or consumed indoors. My earliest experience with sardines links them inextricably to aluminum canoes and cold spring fed rivers. I never go kayaking without a can of sardines. I don't always eat them, but it seems right to just have them along for an emergency. You never know.

Canned sardines are also a staple of my hurricane food larder, along with smoked oysters. Sometimes my aunt and I have a get together at the end of hurricane season to eat our hurricane food just for nostalgia and turnover. If a whole year goes by without a hurricane we may end up with smoked oyster dip at Thanksgiving, but I never thought to make fish dip out of sardines. I'm thinking about it now though. As long as I make it out on the porch.

The interesting thing to me about the sardine recipes page though is recipes for fresh sardines. Wouldn't it be a strange turn if this oil spill changes the choices at the fish market? What if fresh sardines become common instead of all the Gulf fish that nobody is catching anymore? We caught fry in a seine at the coast once and stirred them into hush puppy batter and made fry cakes. It was neat how you could clean the scales off by just rubbing them between your hands.

The trick is that sardines are prone to boom and bust, if I recall correctly from class. American sardine fishing is basically over. At certain times of certain years they form giant bait balls off the coast of South America where the cold, rich bottom water upwells at the steep continental boundary. (This happens along South Africa too, like in the Wild Oceans IMAX movie with the underwater scenes and music that make me cry but the scenes of people that are just embarrassing to me.) Studies into the dynamics of sardine cycles are ongoing. There's just no way to have a steady supply of fresh sardines year round. And Americans expect to see the same thing at the market every week. Maybe as part of the new trend to get people to be more aware of the wider world grocery store managers can start having promotions for seasonal items like sardines.

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