Canned Sardines Make For A Delicious Fish Taco When You're In A Pinch

Summertime calls for refreshingly delicious fish tacos with flaky fish right off the grill. But sometimes after a long day, we only want to reach for what's already in the pantry. When you're craving the juicy textural and flavorful delight that is the beloved fish taco, there's a simple ingredient for these exact occasions: canned sardines.

Yes, we're talking about the small fish sold affordably and conveniently, ready to eat right out of the tin can. Well-known for their use as a savory addition in tomato sauces and atop crusty bread as a flavorful snack, sardines have a meaty texture and a fishy, rich flavor. They are also high in omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins. 

This all may sound promising, but still you ask: aren't sardines too fishy to enjoy in a delicate tortilla? While sardines are packed with flavor for their miniature fishy size, they are often confused with anchovies, a similarly oily canned fish. Compared to salty, umami anchovies, sardines have a milder, less pungent flavor. They're cooked or smoked before they're preserved in oil and canned (as opposed to anchovies, which undergo a brining process before canning). The resulting aquatic, yet not-too-intense taste, combined with their meaty texture, make sardines the perfect protein for fish tacos in a pinch. And once you try them, they might just be your new go-to taco ingredient.

How to prepare sardines for tacos

If you have a tin of anchovies in the pantry, along with a few other simple taco ingredients, you're well on your way to making the most seamless yet satisfying meal. To make fish tacos using canned sardines, remove the sardines from the can, drain the oil, dry with a paper towel, and split each fish individually lengthwise with a paring knife.

Once you've prepped the fish, there are a variety of ways you can cook them before assembling the tacos. (Alternatively, you may choose to simply toss them into tortillas, enjoying them right from the can like you would to prepare a snack.) To pan-fry sardines, simply coat them in cornmeal or a mixture of flour, salt, and spices (such as paprika or cumin), then carefully add them to a frying pan with hot oil. Fry the fish for about 2 minutes on each side. Be careful not to overcook the sardines — because they're small, they'l fry and crisp up quickly.

Once the sardines are golden in color, remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate draped with a paper towel to absorb extra grease on the exterior of the fish. Top the fish with salt and pepper to taste, or leave them unseasoned to let the other ingredients and sauces in the tacos shine.

Accentuate the flavor of your tacos

Once you'e prepared the sardines, it's time to get creative with your taco assembly. Start by laying out your taco components, including corn or flour tortillas and any vegetables or salsas for topping.

When making fish tacos with sardines, it's important to balance the flavor of the fish — it's more pungent and flavor-packed than a typical larger piece of white fish, such as tilapia or cod. The same flavor rules apply when making sardine fish tacos, as when crafting the perfect grilled sardines stuffed with bell peppers and lemon-herb bread crumbs. Incorporating acid in the form of a squeeze of fresh lime juice, pickled red onion, or a dollop of creamy tartar sauce atop the fish will balance, brighten, and elevate the sardines' oily, fishy notes.

Play with the textural construction of the taco by adding diced avocado, crunchy red cabbage, and herbaceous chopped cilantro to compliment and contrast the delicate, yet crisply fried sardines. Top the tacos with canned salsas and hot sauces you already have in the fridge, continuing to make use of what you have to truly get resourceful and delightfully inventive for this easy pantry-find weeknight meal.