Some years ago, an obscure editor at a well-known fashion magazine prevailed upon a famous food writer to come up with a piece on sardines. To say that coercion was involved over this story is an understatement of near biblical proportions; the poor writer’s feet were probably held to some hellish, check-denying fire until he came up with a printable essay on a subject far beneath his contempt.
The end product, a minor etude of culinary literature memorable primarily by its invective, was infused with caustic bemusement and only a very, very small degree of begrudging admiration for the fish itself. The subject took second place to the condescension that infused every sentence, each one a blazing example of scathing hauteur.
What the writer was trying to do (with limited success) was to raise the sardine to such a degree of sophistication that it fit seamlessly in between the inexplicably anorexic homoerotic fashions, the absolutely incomprehensible art, and exhausting columns of blithering prose. He began with an “imagine this” sort of scenario in which a thin, impeccably dressed Parisienne strolls into a bistro on the Champs E’lysee, orders a beer with sardines au plat, then squats and gobbles without getting so much as a spot on her duds.
Most people turn their noses up at sardines. They have a strong smell, for one thing, but that’s not the main reason; lots of people eat stuff that smells bad, especially when nutrition isn’t particularly a key consideration. No, the reason people don’t eat sardines is because in this neck of the woods they’re considered trashy, so trashy that you’ll not find a single sardine recipe in any of Jill Connor Browne’s otherwise excellent culinary compilations.
If you want to try sardines for the first time, get a can of Port Clydes (in oil) and drain them; use a colander if you feel the need, but do not rinse them with water. Instead, sprinkle them with a little freshly-squeezed lemon juice and just a bit of kosher salt, set them in a sealed container in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled and eat them with sour gherkins, raw celery and onions, and have your favorite beer with them. Dill toast is wonderful alongside, but rye Melba will suffice and saltines of any sort will do any time at all.