The Healthy, Sustainable, & Delicious Salmon Alternative


A few weeks back I talked about the collapse of the northern California salmon fishery. As a way to continue to have our fish and eat it too, I passed on the recommendation of some experts to eat less popular types of wild fish that come from abundant fisheries, such as mackerel. Heartbreakingly, it looks like the entire pacific coast salmon fishery will be completely closed this year.

It’s time to explore another underutilized alternative: sardines. Yes, sardines. Besides the fact that sardines are delicious and sustainable, there are other great reasons to eat them.

They are extremely flavorful and packed full of Omega-3s. Being low on the food chain, they are low in environmental pollutants. They are supremely versatile and stand up nicely to bold flavors like capers, lemon, garlic, and fresh herbs. They are very affordable – usually around $5.99 lb. They are local, if you live on the West Coast. They provide hope for our salmon – the sardine fishery collapsed in the 1940s but completely recovered. You didn’t think I’d leave you without a recipe, did you?

Broiled Fresh Sardines with Gremolata

You’ll need 1/2 – 3/4 of a pound of sardines per person.

You’ll also need:

– Olive oil
– 1 bunch Italian parsley
– 2 to 3 lemons zested and juiced
– 2 to 3 cloves garlic
– Breadcrumbs

If you can get your fishmonger to clean them for you, do.

If not, here’s how:

Take the dull edge of a paring knife and scrape any loose scales away.

Grasp the top fin between your index finger and thumb and pull sharply toward the head. It should come off easily. Now pull out any little bones that run across the top of the fish.

Firmly grasp the head of the fish and pull. Most of the guts will come out with the head.

With your nails or a sharp paring knife, cut down the length of the belly, rinsing away any remaining viscera.

Carefully open the fish flat from the belly side, exposing the entire backbone. Run your index finger under the backbone carefully to separate it from the flesh, working your way slowly toward the tail. Pull sharply, taking the tail with you. You should have a flat, boneless double fillet of sardine. Rinse and dry.

Whisk together more or less equal parts olive oil and lemon juice. You want just enough to cover the fish.

Add a generous amount of chopped garlic and parsley.

Marinate fish for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Mix together zest from the lemons, finely chopped parsley, chopped garlic, and breadcrumbs. Add a little bit of olive oil – just until the mixture clumps together.

Remove the sardines from the marinade and preheat the broiler. Lay the sardines out in a single layer in a baking dish. Sprinkle them with the gremolata. Place under the broiler and broil for 2-3 minutes or until cooked through.

Note: Recipe Copyright 2008 Vanessa Barrington

Image: Madame Li

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.