How To Eat And Serve Sardines As A Quick, Flavorful Snack

If you haven't already heard, tinned fish are having quite a moment. Thanks to TikTok and YouTube, everything aquatic preserved in cans — from anchovies to octopus — is in. According to Morning Brew, Euromonitor reported that canned seafood sales increased 10% in the U.S. in 2022, much of it thanks to the trend of "seacuterie" on social media — that is, any sort of seafood that undergoes preservation techniques like you would do for meat-based charcuterie, like aging, curing, canning, smoking and so on.

Canning fish is hardly a new invention. In fact, the technique was created in France during the 18th century as a means to feed military troops food that wouldn't spoil quickly. Since then, cultures around the world have adopted the technique, and there are seemingly thousands of different varieties of tinned fish on the market today. If you want to be on trend and start exploring the world of fish in a can, you don't need to go too far to find some great examples, however. Start your journey at your local grocery or specialty foods store and grab a tin of good old-fashioned sardines. Not only are they easy to find, they are also a great gateway fish to get you excited to try harder-to-find varieties and expand your palate.

If you're not sure how to eat them, the good news is that you probably already have a few accompaniments in your pantry that are perfect for sardine snacking: bread or crackers and mustard.

Sardines on crackers or toast

Just like tinned fish itself, the combination of sardines and crackers is effortless and classic. In a YouTube video titled "How to Eat Canned Sardines (ELIMINATE THE FEAR)," Matthew Carlson of "Canned Fish Files" advocates for serving them with saltines as a great way to bridge the gap if you're a little squeamish about popping a whole sardine in your mouth. "If the texture is weirding you out at all, crackers are just gonna mitigate that to the floor," he said.

It's the same as spreading canned tuna on crackers — the meat is tender, and the crackers bring in a little crunch and starch, not to mention some salt. Saltines and sardines are a time-honored American pairing, as sardines are plentiful along many U.S. coastlines, and the crackers were invented in Milton, Massachusetts in the 1800s. Even King Oscar, the undisputed Scandinavian-born monarch of canned sardines, recommends them, though the brand notes that you can also use leaves of endive or romaine lettuce for a more vegetal crunch. Besides saltines, rectangular Club Crackers are another go-to.

Pretty much all savory crackers are delicious with sardines, so experiment with your favorite crispbreads or flatbreads. Toast also makes a good base for seacuterie; at Vernick Fish in Philadelphia, chef Greg Vernick sources sardines from Spain to pair with buttered, toasted sourdough. Whatever you use, just be sure to make it very crunchy for the contrast in texture to the soft fish.

Add flavors to your fish

Once you pick a favorite cracker, it's time to add extra flavors to your snack. If you're going for the classic saltine setup, any type of grainy mustard is universally recommended by tinned fish lovers for a pop of flavor. Some sardines, like Chicken of the Sea, even come pre-packed in mustard sauce. If you're starting with plain sardines, however, just spread a thin layer of mustard on your cracker and place the fish on top.

If mustard isn't your thing, but you like a little spice, try mixing up some spicy aioli (like the spicy mayo you get with sushi) for your sardine stacks by combining either sriracha, harissa, or chili paste with some mayonnaise. Spread the aioli on your cracker or toast, stack on a sardine, then add pickles or even a pinch of kimchi, and give it a crunch.

Sardines are also super tasty with all the same garnishes as smoked salmon, so consider adding a few pickled red onions to your cracker stack, or even smear a little bit of cream cheese on first before piling on the fish and pickles for a richer texture and flavor. Fresh herbs are another winner; at Huertas in Manhattan, chef Jonah Miller serves sardines with parsley, dill, and lemon.

After you have sardines solidly listed in your snack lineup, start exploring all the other types of tinned fish. Next thing you know, you'll be posting a seacuterie spread of your own on TikTok.