Packed in Like…
Once I clearly accomplished my goal of not avoiding butter, my taste buds, stomach and head were all ready for my trip tomorrow to Brittany, France. My thoughts went to the region’s mouthwatering pastries and crêpes, sparkling cider, big, red, spiny lobsters and colorful collections of tins that I always bring back – conserved sardines, tuna and scallops. With this last thought, I could already see my cupboards filling up by the minute.
I had one lonely can of sardines remaining from our last visit to Brittany, and I decided now was a perfect time to open it, as my stash was just about to be replenished.
We had spent a long weekend in Le Croisic, a rugged fishing town on the Loire Atlantic coast in Southern Brittany, a good starting point for a discovery of la Côte Sauvage (France’s Wild Coast). Fishing boats were lined up on the water, up as if in a duel against the rows of adjacent wooden houses, dating from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. In between, the one-lane road blended in with café terraces, where tables were filled with people slurping mussels, devouring crêpes and sipping their ceramic bowls of cider… while others were busy filling up their shopping cart with tin cans.
That would be me, in the Conserverie La Belle-Iloise, in awe of the walls just overflowing with different color tins. I have been known to snap a shot or two of such incredible displays of sardine tins, as my friend Dorie Greenspan shared with her readers. Here’s the link to Dorie’s blog with the picture I took last summer in a supermarket in the French countryside. Stores with such variety make decision making a real challenge. An entire wall had shelves and shelves of just sardine tins – do you want your sardines in sunflower oil or in olive oil, with bones or without bones, made with tomatoes, lemon, spices or different color peppercorns? Oh, and do you plan on cooking your sardines, because if so, that’s a whole other shelf. And this was only sardines! Then you had almost as many options for tuna, another wall for mackerel, assorted sauces, bisques and different spreads for the perfect apéritif or afternoon snack. I did what any typical, overwhelmed tourist might do: I bought an assortment of all of the above.
Here was the last can of the bunch, sardines in olive oil and lemon. The naturally strong flavor of the sardines was softened by the lemon, whose acidity was likewise toned down by the fish. It was a perfect match. I put together a simple salad, using the lettuce that I had on hand, but really any will do – arugula, mâche, baby spinach, etc. I didn’t fuss too much with a dressing, because I didn’t want to mask the flavors of the lemon oil from the tin, which I most certainly did not toss. And that was it. Break into a baguette, and you have the makings of a light dinner right before your eyes.
Looking at the empty spot in my cupboard now, I am thinking of all the tins that will be there after the weekend – new flavors to try as well as my usual favorites. Definitely a can or two of the sardines in olive oil with lemon. Next time it won’t be a simple salad though. It will be sardine guacamole. I remember years back stumbling on a recipe in a French magazine for Guacamole de Sardine. I mean, how could it not catch your eye? So I went ahead and puréed an avocado, mashed up some sardines into it, and called it a day. It was good, but I never served it again. I am thinking the lemon and oil in this tin might just be the ticket. As for photographing that to make it look attractive, I’ve got my work cut out for me….
For 4 people1 can of sardines in olive oil with lemon
Salt and pepper Open the avocados, discard the pits and put the flesh in a bowl. Add 4 sardines, the oil and lemon slices. Mash with a fork to get a homogenous mix, but not an entirely smooth purée. Leaving small pieces is desirable. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with slices of toast and assorted crudités.
Conserverie La Belle Iloise 4 Quai de la Petite Chambre Le Croisic 44490 France