Alton Brown Has A Serious Rule For Buying Canned Sardines

Whether it's due to its relative affordability, creative packaging, or the "tinned fish date night" hashtag on TikTok that surprisingly took the app by storm starting last summer, tinned fish is officially having a moment in 2023. However, celebrity chef and food science guru Alton Brown had a special place in his heart for tinned fish, particularly sardines, well before it became trendy.

Brown is such a fan of the small fish that he takes tins of them with him when traveling, and at home, he and his wife have a "fish bank" — an entire shelf dedicated to storing canned fish. So, it's fair to say that Brown knows a thing or two about sardines and his advice on buying them is this: always choose a variety packed in oil. In his cookbook "EveryDayCook," Brown asserts, "I have one rule, by the way: always oil, never water. Water-packed sardines actually taste worse than water-packed tuna and that's saying something."

Why buy oil-packed sardines

There are plenty of reasons to buy sardines. They can help reduce inflammation, prevent heart disease, improve the function of blood vessels and nerves, and contribute to strong bones. However, buying them packed in oil comes with advantages in terms of both flavor and health.

As mentioned by Brown, water-packed sardines lack the rich flavor of their oil-packed counterparts. Oil not only helps maintain the fish's flavor but also ensures its moistness, thereby creating a texture that's more pleasing than what water can offer.

Yet, not all oil-packed sardines are created equal. High-quality olive oil is the unequivocal choice for most fans of the fish. While olive oil complements the sardine's natural flavor, it's also absorbed by the fish, so even if you choose to drain the can, the flavor of the oil remains. So, when choosing a tin of oil-packed sardines, be sure to check the type of oil they're packed in. While those packed in the best olive oil may be slightly more pricey, the flavor is worth the investment.

As for health benefits, olive oil is known as a nutrient-rich powerhouse, full of healthy fat, antioxidants, and properties that reduce inflammation. Consumption of olive oil has been linked to a reduced risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke and its anti-inflammatory properties could contribute to a lesser chance of developing cancer, cognitive conditions, or arthritis.

How to use sardines

Since Brown is a sardine aficionado (after all, at the time of writing "EveryDayCook," he had thirty-two cans of sardines from the United States, Portugal, France, and Spain on his shelf), he has suggestions for how to prepare them. In his sardine dip, also known as "pâté de sardine," Brown trades out liver in favor of sardines, mixed with butter, herbs, shallots, and lemon juice. And while Brown is known for deriding avocado toast on an episode of "Late Night with Stephen Colbert," his sherried sardine toast is an updated take on the trendy toast.

There are plenty of other ways to use sardines, too, from a simple sardine sandwich and sardines stuffed with nutty, aromatic rice to a tasty toast topped with sardines and tomato relish. You can even use them in place of anchovies in pasta puttanesca.

Of course, if you're not feeling like fussing with preparation, you can just grab a fork and a tin, and dig in. Or, pop open a few tins, and put together a tasting by creating your own charcuterie board.