The Simple Trick To Mellow Out The Fishy Flavor Of Canned Sardines

As far as canned fish goes, sardines are one of the most widely available and versatile staples with plenty of canned brands to choose from. They're canned in brine, oil, and freshwater, imparting unique flavors to the meaty texture of sardines. That said, no matter the canning liquid, sardines still give off a fishy flavor. The simple trick to mellow out their fishy flavor is to add acid.

The source of the fishy smell and taste of saltwater fish like sardines is a chemical known as trimethylamine (TMA), which acid can neutralize. The science behind acid's effectiveness lies in pH and the desired balance between acids and bases. Trimethylamine is a base, so introducing an acid will cause a reaction that breaks TMA down into an acid salt and water. The salt dissolves in the water, thereby neutralizing the fishy smell and taste of sardines.

Acids come in many forms, each imparting unique and delicious tasting notes while neutralizing undesired fishiness. The most popular acid is citrus; fish filets are often served with a lemon slice to squeeze over them before you dig in. Another common acidic pairing is tartar sauce, made with lemon juice as well as ingredients like capers and pickles. Vinegar and tomato juice are also acidic ingredients that can temper the fishy flavor of canned sardines.

How to incorporate acidic ingredients into canned sardines

While many raw fish recipes recommend using an acidic marinade to eliminate fishy tastes, canned sardines are already cooked and ready to eat. This makes it even easier to incorporate acidic ingredients without any waiting time. Sardines have many uses, both as the main ingredient and as a supplementary ingredient in dips and sauces.

If you want to eat sardines right out of the can over toast, for example, spread the toast with tartar sauce and top with tomatoes, or toss the sardines in a bowl with a drizzle of lemon juice, olive oil, and Italian seasonings. To add canned sardines to a salad, an acidic dressing like vinaigrette or buttermilk ranch would be an effective neutralizer for fishy flavors. For that matter, you can also blend sardines into salad dressings, use sardines in tuna salad or fish cakes mixed with acidic ingredients like pickle relish and vinegar, or pair your fish cakes with an acidic tartar or remoulade sauce.

Of course, many famous sardine recipes already contain an acidic component. Sardine pasta dishes, for example, often simmer sardines in tomato sauce or blend them into a white wine and caper sauce. Sardine rillettes mash canned sardines with lemon juice and butter for a decadent spread to eat with crostini or baguettes. You can also look for a canned sardine brand that packs sardines with acidic ingredients like tomato sauce or vinegar-infused hot sauce.