Friday, October 24, 2014

A Sadly Forgotten New England Fish



As a true Yankee, I grew up with the sound of canned sardines in my home. The sound you say?! Yup, that sound when you pull back on that can and hear the suction dissipate and that clean, metal tearing harmony. They were always in the cupboard. found mostly in mustard, these delicious little fish made their way onto my fathers chin coated in oil many times.

Sardines, the smaller version of herring, was THE business here in Maine for many generations. Heck, even children as young as 7-8 years old found themselves working right alongside their parents in these large, expansive and smelly factories. The images below I found at the U.S. Library of Congress digital division. I urge you to take at peek at their site, they have some amazing older images for those of you that are as nostalgic as I am.

Children taking a break from the sardine factory in Eastport, Maine
At one time, there were over 350 canning factories for these silvery fish in Maine, most of them up and down the coast.

The only explanation I can even possibly consider as to why the sharp decline and ultimate cessation of this industry is because of the idea of eating these oily fish. Because of their abundance, even to this day, they can be sold cheaply. Because of this lower expense, I believe the concept of eating a "cheap" fish that comes in cans is not appealing, and THAT, my friends, is a shame. Especially when you consider that anchovies hold such a high and delicate standing in the culinary world. And what is an anchovy? THE SAME THING!!! Well, technically that is. They are much more salted, but none-the-less, they are classified as a small fish and are eaten the same way as the sardines.

FYI, sardines are very VERY high in nutrients that have been found to benefit cardiovascular health in a tremendous way. When it comes to omega-3 fatty acids, they have one of the most concentrated sources. One 3 1/2-ounce can contains about 50% of the RDA amounts of these heart healthy nutrients.

Another reason I think people don't enjoy these delectable's is because they are near the bottom of the food chain, but this is a good thing. Because of their existence in the scheme of the aquatic kingdom, they feed solely on plankton. It is because of this that they ingest nearly no damaging heavy metals as compared to all other fish. And without these damaging contaminants, such as mercury, they are much healthier to eat.

And have you even had a kipper? Kippers have been a mainstay on breakfast tables for centuries in England. With their smoky goodness, these smoked 'red herrings' pair perfectly with eggs, after they have been "boiled off" that is. But you don't have to worry about Bar Harbor Foods brand. They are prepared much the same way our forefathers prepared fish for their long voyages across the Atlantic, but without the added duty of rinsing

Now I must tell you about a company here in Maine that still sells all the above, and then some. I recently walked up and down the aisles of my local supermarket looking for some sardines to munch on. I saw a few different labels and almost grabbed a few. And when I say "grabbed a few", I mean if you have an affinity for these types of fish, a 3.5-ounce can just doesn't cut it. Then the jackpot! Bar Harbor brand kippers, sardines, herring and mackerel were right there. AND in cans that were 6.7-ounces each. so by eating just one of these cans, you have the amount recommended for a healthy heart. Boy, was I in heaven.

I am going to give you the rundown in just a second but first I want to tell you that I was truly elated. Sounds weird, but those of you who have ever wanted that one particular snack and you will not leave the store until you find it, you know what I mean. My Dad, the second Yankee Chef, would have cleared off the shelves of these goodies. And I almost did! I took 3 cans of each, just in case Armageddon was coming in the next week. Without spilling the beans until you read more below, these were the best I have ever had the opportunity to eat, and I have eaten many MANY pounds in my lifetime.

Wild Herring Fillets in Cabernet Wine Sauce

Although I don't generally eat anything with liquor, I had to try these. And am I glad I did. They are perfect!! I would never had thought of combining Cabernet with herring but the combination is out of this world. For those of you who have that 'upper class taste' and still think herring is below you, you haven't tried these beauties yet. With a dab of sweetness from tomato and a splash of red wine, you will be sitting down and emptying this can of goodness post-haste.

Wild Herring Fillets in Stone-ground Mustard Sauce

Definitely NOT my fathers can of fish!...although I dearly wish he was here to try these. I grew us eating herring and sardines in mustard sauce, but it was always either bright yellow and drippy mustard that splattered onto whatever I was wearing, Either that or the mustard had congealed so much that it resembled paste. Don't get me wrong, I still thought they were the cat's meow, but Bar Harbor herring was spot on with their redefined, stone ground mustard preparation. The perfect harmony to the perfect tune. And they use Raye's Stone-ground Mustard, another Maine company right from Eastport, the home of sardine manufacturing from so long ago,. Stone ground is the only way to go for these fish, delightfully cutting into the oily fish for a clean and tasty finish.

Wild Herring Fillets in Tomato Basil Sauce
Tell me these don't look delicious!

Anyone that knows me knows that I am a glutton for basil. And the sauce that surrounds these sustainable herrings is spiced just enough so that the glorious taste of herring isn't lost in the sweet taste of tomato and basil. I could do so much with these beauties but for now, right out of the can for me. Hey Bar Harbor Foods! You're killin' it!(At least that is what I think the youth of today says when something good happens)

Skinless, Boneless Smoked Sardine Fillets in Maple Syrup
You can see the maple permeating into the fish....sooo good!

Fried clams and lobster have always been my favorite seafood, bar none........until now! Whoever came up with the idea of combining the sweet goodness of New England, that is maple, and slathering it onto sardines ought to have a Holiday named after them. Not only are the heads cut off, but to skin, bone AND smoke sardines before packing with an ancient Yankee sweetener is a concept long in the making. And Bar Harbor did it. Perfect, absolutely perfect!

Skinless, Boneless Smoked Sardine Fillets
I couldn't get over the smoky flavor found in this can

For those of you who want to take baby steps when dining on sardines for the first time, I highly recommend this product. You can truly taste every "glorious bit".(someone made that phrase famous, but for the life of me I can't remember who) Gently wood smoked and a pinch of salt is all that is in this plump can of sardines. Again, I am referring to eating these straight from the can, but it would be equally delicious added to any pizza or salad you desire. Much, MUCH tastier than anchovies.

Wild Herring Fillets Seasoned with Cracked Pepper

"Ah..sweet mystery of life at last I've found you.....". This was one of my Dad's favorite songs and indeed one of mine, by that incomparable tenor, Mario Lanza. And that song immediately came to mind when I 'cracked' open that can of herring. Yeah, I am no good at puns either but with cracked pepper permeating every fillet, as it does in many of my recipes, I adored this morsel. With no added oil and the right amount of spicy, crunchy pepper, it is a must for all sardine aficionados.  Because I love the taste of cracked black pepper, I sprinkle just a tad more on, but they really are perfectly seasoned for you as is.

And ending with what is the ultimate smoked fish:

All Natural Smoked Wild Kippers
Now THAT'S a fillet!!!

Smoked with oak, these fish truly made me think of our ancestors, but without all the work. Savory, smoky and simply appetizing, you really do have to buy a can of these. Not only are these the 'bomb'(again, apologies for trying to act like a teen again)but they, and all the above products, are canned in a BPA free can..

There! I have given you the rundown on what I believe is the best of the best of the Atlantic ocean. I will tell you up front and honestly, I am in no way compensated for my opinion, nor have I been nudged to promote these products. They have not asked me to do anything in the way of promoting these delicious canned fish and even if they did, I would have not taken one red cent from them. It was my entire pleasure and now can rest comfortably knowing exactly where they are in the supermarket.

Now that the pictures are taken, and with may open cans in front of me, guess what is next on my agenda? I am not even going to reach for that box of crackers, just a fork and a chair, 'Nuff said.....


BrianandJen said...

It just so happens I saw that brand in the store last month but never gave it a try. Guess I will be going back.

TJJ said...

Love love love sardines. I will order these from online. TY again for another excellent article.

Lillian Dickason said...

I remember as a little girl, sitting on my daddy's lap sharing a can of sardines with him. We did this often.If I recall correctly they were always in oil, not mustard. It has been well over 40 years since I have eaten them......well maybe after reading this article... It's time.

The Yankee Chef said...

And that is what separates us Yankees from the rest of the world, it seems. Our food brings back so many memories. TY for sharing Lillian.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding us to try sardines again. Had forgotten all about them since I was a child in Massachusetts.Now I am going online to order some from Bar Harbor Foods. The tomato basil looks sooooo friggin good. Are you going to be making some recipe out of them? If you do, let me know because I am a columnist and would be more than happy to print whatever you come up with for my papers. Thanks Chef.

ethanG said...

damn chef. the kippers were killer. We just asked our store here in Indie to order some other stuff from bar harbor foods