Mash Canned Sardines Into Butter For The Ultimate French Umami Spread

The Charente-Maritime department of western France is renowned for its seafood, particularly oysters, mussels, scallops, and sardines. Residents of the region have a long-standing tradition of mixing the local seafood with butter that is salted with crystals from  Île de Ré, an island just to the west of La Rochelle. Famous for its salt marshes, the fleur de sel that comes from Île de Ré is famous the world over for its large crystals and excellent, mineral qualities. The resulting French seafood butter is nothing short of a spreadable umami bomb. The combination of the fleur de sel, the rich creaminess of the butter, and the brine of the seafood packs a savory punch. Sardines flourish in abundance off the coast of western France, and therefore make a popular mixing option.  

Sardines are a mild flavored fish. Compared to anchovies, sardines have a far more delicate, far less fishy, far less briny aroma, but have a strong, meaty texture, and a subtle, yet complex flavor. Quality imported sardines, canned either with or without their bones, are easy to come by, available at virtually every supermarket and specialty grocer in the U.S. Therefore, assembling the ingredients to make sardine butter is incredibly easy, and the results will transport you to the coast of France from the first bite to the last. 

Using sardine butter in the kitchen

Mashing sardines into butter requires nothing more than a fork. Use top-quality, European style butter for this because the butterfat content is higher, and it provides a much creamier texture and tangier flavor. You could use salted butter, but it's just as easy to get your hands on some Île de Ré fleur de sel and sprinkle it in yourself. A splash of citrus and a dash of chives are all you need to finish off this butter, which you can jar and keep in the fridge or freezer for a good long while. Just make sure its warm enough to spread when you're ready to use it.

The classic French way of using sardine butter is as an hors d'oeuvre. It's easily spread over toast and crackers, and can pair brilliantly with several raw vegetables. Thinly sliced radishes atop a sardine buttered piece of toast makes as flavorful an appetizer as ever there was. You could even use sardine butter instead of mayonnaise or mustard as an alternative condiment for a sandwich. 

As sardines have such a mild flavor, they can adapt to a wide variety of dishes. Toss sardines into a pasta dish for a light lunch, or melt it over warm asparagus for a briny side dish with lemony undertones. You can stick to the classics or get as creative as you want with this butter. Either way, you're in for a rich treat.