I used to hate sardines because of how they looked. Skin-on, heads off, they looked so unappealing and just plain nasty in their tins when my dad would open one up for his lunch. And never mind how they smelled. But one day I got curious enough and asked him if I could try one, and then boom: I was hooked. The flaky texture and the mildly fishy taste really appealed to me, much like tuna fish, but these sardines were packed in tomato sauce and oil and could be eaten right out of the can. And I loved the morbid crunch of the malleable, edible spine and the almost invisible bones that never got stuck in your teeth. I’ve felt this since I’ve tried them: sardines are great!
And they’re way more than headless little minnows in an aluminum tin, that’s for sure. Sardines are used as a food source around the world, and eaten in many different ways by different culinary cultures. In places where sardines are plentiful in the wild, like in the Mediterranean and the waters off Japan, sardines are enjoyed as a fresh fish, and are commonly caught and immediately grilled on an open fire (or, in the case of the Canary Islands, grilled over the heat from an active volcano!) But here in the United States, where our waters don’t usually teem with fleets of sardines, we get them canned and eat them right out of the tin. Already cleaned and cooked, the sardines are packed in an airtight container with water, oil, tomato sauce, or even mustard. You can use them in a dish just like any other canned meat or fish, but I usually end up just smearing them on some toast and eating them right away 😛
Not many restaurants serve sardines on their menus, preferring to use fresher and more respectable fish. But you don’t have to resort to making your own sardine sandwich to celebrate today: there are still a few places in New York where you can get your sardine fix. For instance, head to Williamsburg where Saltie, a small sandwich shop making big waves with their gourmet-level sammies for a very low price, makes one mean sardine. The sandwich, called the Captain’s Daughter, it includes a whole tin of mashed sardines, a pickled egg, parsley, and a salsa verde, on fresh focaccia bread. Saltie doesn’t shy away from the fact that these sardines are in a can: they embrace it, and bring to the table the diner’s nostalgic love of eating sardines out of a can. They might not be fire-grilled over an active volcano, but they sure are tasty. The pickled egg gives the sandwich a great tanginess, which complements the mild fishiness of the sardines, and the salsa verde gives you just enough bright freshness in the sandwich to remind you that this was made fresh to order–and not sitting under heat lamps all day. The Captain’s Daughter is just one of the sandwiches that has put the tiny Saltie on the culinary map in New York, catching the attention of bigwigs like The Village Voice and The New York Times. Hit this place up now, before they cash in on their reputation and start raising the prices to what you should actually pay for a sandwich this good.
378 Metropolitan Ave (at Havemeyer St), Williamsburg
“The savory sandwiches, which change periodically, are careful compositions of bright and brawny flavors. Take the Captain’s Daughter ($8), sardines and pickled egg on focaccia — it’s dressed with a chunky caper-spiked salsa verde. Or the Henry Hudson ($9), with fried green tomatoes and prosciutto perked up with garlicky mayo.”–The New York Times
“While it features a greenmarket’s worth of parsley, the Captain’s Daughter is first and foremost a sardine sandwich. It uses an entire tin of the little fish, burying them underneath a pile of scallions, pickled eggs, capers, and the aforementioned herb. The ingredients struggle to escape from between two thick squares of house-made focaccia: Every bite frees a few rogue capers, and the slippery eggs and untethered leaves of parsley threaten to join the mutiny. But while the sandwich’s construction flirts with chaos, its bold flavors work in perfect harmony, making it a joyous mess to consume.”–The Village Voice
“Saltie has created the ideal in-between sandwich, something that’s not quite breakfast or brunch, nor dinner. It’s exactly what I want to eat at 3 PM, when I’m determined to eat something a bit substantial that won’t completely obliterate my appetite. Enter the cheekily named Captains Daughter ($8), a delightful melange of sardines, pickled egg, salsa verde, and greens. It’s essentially a somewhat virtuous salad revamped as a sandwich, but the pillowy and fragrant housemade foccacia makes it anything but ordinary. The sardines are plentiful, and their saltiness is cut by the sweetly spicy salsa verde and the cheery yellow slices of pickled egg. The layer of greens keeps things interesting atop at least 2 inches of sardines.”–Serious Eats
“Captain’s Daughter ($8): Salted foccacia with sardines, a sliced pickled egg, and “salsa verde” of whole parsley leaves and sliced scallions tossed with olive oil and capers. YUMS. Does everyone already know about this place? Best possible thing I could have eaten before the gig at The Knitting Factory. The individual quince tarts’ crusts sparkled with granulated sugar, enrobing fuchsia colored fruit. Though I yearned for one, I held back. The cup of loose leaf jasmine tea was the perfect cap to a really tasty and virtuous meal.”–Eat Drink One Woman
“On a bed of focaccia, lay a few meaty sardines topped with hard-boiled eggs (stained yellow with Turmeric? There was something yellow on the outside of those eggs), pickled red onions, cilantro and mint. It was a powerhouse of a sandwich, a big, bold combination of flavors: the briny sardines, the creamy eggs, the sharp pickled onions and the refreshing herbs. And at $9, it felt like something you’d pay $5 more for in a restaurant (plus at a restaurant, you’d pay tax and tip, so this really is a bargain.)”–Amateur Gourmet
“We make the focaccia every day. It’s our version of that light, delicious, soft and comforting sandwich bread you’re always looking for that’s so hard to find. There’s a nice sea salt sprinkle on the bread that gives it a nice crunch and that brings out the flavors of the bread and everything on the sandwich too. Then you have the sardines. We use these awesome quality sardines from Morocco. They’re big, juicy, fillets – not the little ones you think of jammed into a little can. They’ve got that almost sweet, fishy flavor – a little bit of the ocean, a little brine. Then you’ve got the pickled egg, which is cooked a little softer than a hard-boiled egg. It combines the tang from the pickle with the rich creaminess of the egg. And to finish it we add some fresh herbs, pickled vegetables, capers and our salsa verde, which we make with a whole bunch of seasonal herbs and lemon juice. It’s super bright, so it cuts through all that richness of the egg and balances the brininess of the sardine really nicely.”–Nona Brooklyn
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“the Captain’s Daughter alone could cause God to bawl uncontrollably causing a flood Moses couldn’t possibly navigate unless…wait for it….HE HAD A CAPTAIN’S DAUGHTER!!! And how. Ya everyone…this sandwich is a work of pure genius and while the freshness of the ingredients is obviously present it’s important to note just how singular of a creation this beast is. Well worth the $10. Sardines imported from Turkey…a lovely Scallion, Mint and Arugula mix, boiled egg and the most glorious Focaccia…so very soft like a baby’s pristine butt. I may be forgetting some additional ingredients (sue me! I’m new to eating Saltie).”–Gino M.
“After just polishing off a Captain’s Daughter (sardines, pickled eggs, scallions, capers and a couple of other things on focaccia), I felt compelled to vouch for Saltie’s excellence on Yelp. I actually ate this sandwich while watching Top Chef, which usually inspires some serious food envy in me, but this time there was no dish on the screen I would have traded for my own dinner. There were perhaps a few too many capers tumbling around inside for my taste, but otherwise, perfection.”–Ms. J.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!