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Product Spotlight: Sardines
Europeans prefer to eat these silvery little fish fresh
December 01, 2005
When you hear the term “sardine,” the fish that comes to mind depends on where you are.
In New England, sardines are small herring. In Europe, the so-called “true sardine,” is a pilchard, as is the California, or Pacific, sardine. Sardine also encompasses various South American, Japanese, South African and Australian pilchards, not to mention the sprat family.
Sardine is the generic term for small, silvery, saltwater fish that swim in huge schools near the ocean surface.
The name may come from the small pilchards caught off Sardinia, one of the earliest fish to be packed in oil.
Most of the U.S. supply is from domestic catches of Atlantic herring — 179.7 million pounds worth $14.1 million in 2004 — and Pacific sardines, at 198.9 million pounds valued at $10.4 million, according to National Marine Fisheries Service data.
California accounts for most of the Pacific sardine harvdst, followed by Oregon and then Washington state. Atlantic herring are caught along the East Coast from Maine to Virginia. Maine is by far the biggest producer, with Massachusetts second.
U.S. imports of sardines, mostly in canned form, totaled more than 4.8 million pounds worth $4.6 million through September 2005, reports NMFS. Just 38,122 pounds were imported as frozen product and 2,097 pounds as fresh.
The top U.S. suppliers this year were Ecuador at 1.1 million pounds, followed by Canada at 1 million, Thailand at 709.397, Morocco at 569,771 and Mexico with 475,270.
Small, delicate and high in fat content, sardines are very perishable. They are available fresh seasonally in limited quantities and usually sold locally.
Europeans enjoy grilled or broiled fresh sardines. U.S. consumers are more familiar with sardines in a can, packed whole, steaked or filleted in oil or in tomato or mustard sauce. But Mediterranean-style restaurants are giving American diners a taste for fresh sardines.
The small-plate menu at Atasca, a Portuguese restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., features Sardinhas Grelhadas, grilled whole sardines with roasted peppers, and Sardinhas de Escabeche, fresh grilled sardines with parsley, olive oil vinaigrette, onions and carrots, served cold.
At Dino, an Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C., the “Small Snacks” menu features Sarde in Saor, whole sardines, pan fried and then marinated in onions and raisins.