Tuesday, June 21, 2011

From Poland, With Love

Sometime around the time I was in high-school I had sardines for the first time.  I'm guessing, for no particular reason, that it would have been the Aleesi brand... given the ubiquity of that Italian maker of kitchen hardware, coffee stuff, and (esp. in America) foodstuffs, popular in mid-western supermarkets.  I was a particular fan, at the time and for years, of their sesame breadsticks.  One day I bought my own sesame seeds and roasted them myself with homemade dough.  That was the end of that.

I think what inspired the sardines was a peculiar moment in For Your Eyes Only, the '80's James Bond flick.  Sean Connery was about the only thing good in the ridiculous movie.  Was Rutuer Hauer in it?  If so, he would have played some Eastern European, Iron Curtain pantiwaist (sic.).... so, who cares?  It was a bad movie, but, had a period of, to a kid, boring exposition, where James opens up a gleaming briefcase, and within it is all manner of canned delights, including caviar (Beluga, surely.)  In any case, I eventually would eat caviar now and then with my adventurous family, but not sardines.  Why?  I'm guessing that the ubiquity and frank fishiness of sardines has prejudiced us against them (in canned form) since they were first caught to become the ancestor to Ketchup and the growingly popular Asian/ Eurasian fish sauces.  I certainly don't remember being fed them even once by my Mom.  Had she fed them to me, I am certain I would have eaten them habitually while working on the farms of my young adulthood.  I never did, however, because they slowly grew on me, after, I think, remembering that Sean Connery moment... and fantisizing about having my own [brief]case of delights.  In search of delights I came across sardines.

Occasionally a girlfriend and I would share a sardine sandwich, which, indeed, is an intriguingly "whole food" looking thing, with its silver skin glinting against sprouts, tomato, horseradish and caper.  Sort of a poor mans Lox and Bagel.  And a healthy mans too.  With their high fat content (esp. when packed in Soy/ Olive oils) of the exact sort recommended to us these days, and complete protein... in a small, recyclable aseptic container, they are indeed, a hell of an alternative to a Pepsi.  And, they cost less then a Pepsi!  Go figure.

I'm waiting for the day sardines exceed their absurd envelope of awesomeness and become known by people beyond the super-foodie world, which has a long standing appreciation of such foodstuffs.  Most of the sardines I get are packed in Poland, from vessels fishing I couldn't say where; Sardinia?  I've had them packed in the Middle East, Russia, Poland, and China.  Rarely ever, if in fact even once, in the U.S.  I don't think we experience the sardine in our oceans much.  Perhaps they detest our capitalistic excesses.

I don't eat them every day, since it goes without saying that they are fish from a polluted and somewhat disgusting ocean: while their mercury level is low, it is hardly non-existent.  Also: they are a delicacy,. meant to be enjoyed, on an intriguing time frame: popped open like a convenience, but savored like a thing of beauty.

A few rules:  Don't be fooled by the snake oil salesmen who would have you believe they fish with gilded fishing nets.  The ocean is an unbounded salty body, which, while far from homogeneous, is none-the-less neither organic, nor conventional.  It's just the ocean.  Fish are fish. If you must pay three dollars for sardines, go ahead... eat one third my take.  But I'll have you know that the fanciest variety available at the specialty stores will never beat my $1 oil packed variety with hot sauce and capers.  I make fun of my housemate Richie for buying his "organic line-caught" sardines at our local fancy swag food shop... organic fish?  He agrees, but finds the lively packaging perhaps a sort of status symbol... who knows?

Lastly, today I was peeling back the pop-top of my sardines, at lunch time, in the midst of an irritatingly endless scraping session on an exterior paint job.  The house is, perhaps, 100 years old.  The paint job prior to the last was lead paint, so even now, we must take extraordinary measures against inhalation and the spread of drop paint chips.  This costs us enormously in poly-ethelene plastic and canvass drop cloths, since you can't simply re-use a drop cloth filled with lead dust.  The face masks make the mild early summer heat feel worse, and the sunshine was not much appreciated.  When I'm this grumpy, somethings wrong.  I guessed that I was hungry.  So I walked some distance to the Music Library ( the house was not open) and washed my hands and face, and walked back.  I opened up the tin of sardines with its pop-top (I don't wear flip-flops, Mr. Buffett and fans.)  Inside were only four of the fish (the fancy sardine companies make hilarious distinctions amongst their various price-point levels of sardine loveliness.  Their are "two layer" cans.  And "three layer" cans.  I don't know what else is offered since I refuse to imagine ANY sardine being "value added."  However!  Mother nature had a small gift for me. I noticed a billowing girdle of roe, within each fishes body in the can and gasped a bit.  Beach Cliff, the grocery store brand I buy, can also be found at the Dollar Central.  So I was literally eating Dollar Store smoked fish roe.  "One and One Half Layer."

It is sometimes important to note a distinction.


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