Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sardines! Sardine-jicama-orange-avocado salad

On Saturday I woke Andy up in the middle of the night saying that I needed to give Alton Brown the salad. I don't remember any of this, but I started writing this blog posting that day, so I must have been dreaming about it. I wonder if I meant I had to give him the recipe or the salad itself?! The title of this recipe may give you pause; sardines have a bad rap as a smelly, oily fish. But I encourage you to read on and then give them a chance (except Matt, you're exempt).

Let's discuss sardines first. I bought some canned brisling 2-row sardines packed in olive oil at King Soopers the other day after being inspired by, who else, Alton Brown (I realize this is the third post in a row where I mention him...) On a recent show, he extolled the virtues of sardines as a healthy and tasty food, and made open faced sandwiches that I made the other day - they were great! The health benefits and tastiness are definitely true, but more importantly in my mind is that sardines are a sustainable fishery. They are abundant and very low on the food chain. Because they are low on the food chain, they don't require a lot of inputs and don't create much waste - essentially the oceans can support a lot of them. Compare sardines to, say, canned tuna. Tuna are high on the food chain, thus they require more inputs and the ocean can support fewer of them...making them prone to overfishing especially when they are a super popular fish. Another outcome of being high on the food chain is that they bioaccumulate toxins as they consume the fish that are below them on the food web; most notably mercury and PCBs. I've made a table to compare canned tuna and canned sardines. All the nutritional information is for equal serving sizes (by mass) of the fish, canned in oil. The cells highlighted in green show which fish shines in that category. Yellow and red highlights where you might want to be cautious. You can see sardines are higher than tuna in a number of beneficial nutritional measurements: calcium, fatty acids, vitamin D, among others.

Sources of data:
Sardine nutritional data
Tuna nutritional data

Monterey Bay Aquarium factsheet for sardines
Monterey Bay Aquarium factsheet for canned tuna
Mercury measurements

So, having made the case for sardines, here's the recipe. I think that the citrus helps moderate the oilness of the sardines.


2 cans of 2-row brisling sardines packed in olive oil
Juice and zest of 2 limes
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped
1/4 t. chili powder
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 of a medium-large jicama or 1 small jicama - the equivalent of about a grapefruit sized volume
3 oranges
2 avocados

1. Drain the sardines reserving the olive oil.
2. Whisk together 1 T. of the sardine oil, the juice and zest of the limes, the cilantro and chili powder. Add some pepper.
3. Add the sardines to the dressing, lightly break up the sardines with a fork into bite sized pieces. Marinate the sardines in this dressing for 30-60 minutes.
4. Cut up the jicama into bite sized pieces... I like it in fat matchstick shapes. Cut up the orange and avocado into small bite sized pieces. Remove most of the oranges' pith if you're picky.
5. Toss everything together, let the flavors coalesce for 15-30 minutes or so, and serve.

This is best served the same day it's made.


I think this could be made with a variety of fruits or even vegetables. I can see sardine-watermelon-banana salad, sardine-jicama-grapefruit (with honey!), sardine-potato-raisin (with vinagrette, a potato salad variation)...


  1. Yea! I'm exempt. Fish are gross no matter if they're Tuna or Sardines.

    What if I made this with Pheasant? That might be delicious....

  2. boooo.... you are so missing out Matt, one day you'll learn that fish and shellfish are delicious.
    I think you could make this with pheasant. What about poaching the pheasant with some chilis, blackened onion and maybe soy sauce, and then marinating the shredded meat in a simialar vinagrette to whats described here with some extra chili powder and olive oil. I think that would be good.