The Essential Tip For Cooking Canned Sardines That Stay Intact

If you grew up rapping the Notorious B.I.G.'s famous line, "Remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner," you may have written off this affordable tinned fish as an unappetizing ingredient. But if you've dabbled in sardines as an adult, you know they come with plenty of tasty benefits. Not only are they a nutritious option, as they're chock-full of protein and calcium, but they can bring tons of savory, umami flavor to your meals. Plus, contrary to popular belief, they only have a light fishy taste.

The catch? To extract maximum flavor and textural benefits, it's essential to know how to cook with them, which includes avoiding these common mistakes. If you throw your sardines in your pan when you start making a dish, it's likely that they'll fall apart by the time you're ready to eat. Or worse, they'll turn into a soggy, fishy mess, which we love (said no one ever). So to make sure your sardines stay intact, you'll want to either add them in when your dish is almost done or cook them separately and toss them in right before you eat.

Canned sardines can't take the heat, but they have a place in the kitchen

Let's say you're adding tinned sardines into a pasta dish — which is an excellent idea that leads to plenty of umami-packed bites. If you're making your sauce (like tomato or Alfredo) from scratch, you won't want to include these fish in the early stages, when you're sauteeing your aromatics or whisking liquids together. Feel free to use the oil from the can as your base fat, but the sardines themselves come in after everything has heated, browned, or simmered. A few minutes before your sauce is complete, stir in your (drained) fish, then take your pot off the stove once they're heated up. This method can apply to other stovetop recipes too, such as sardines and rice.

As an alternative, feel free to cook up your seafood separately. They saute beautifully with some oil, shallots, garlic, and lemon juice for just a few minutes, but you can also bread and pan-fry them (perhaps with some herbs and capers), or broil them for a nice, crispy skin. Once your sardines have been cooked on their own, feel free to spread them on toast or crackers, add them to a rice bowl with sauce, or mash them on a bagel. As long as you don't heat them up for too long, they should retain their deliciously flaky texture.