Monday, December 5, 2011

Sardine and Avocado Sandwich


So, where did we leave off, oh…three months ago? That’s right – that kind-of-sort-of-vegan thing. Well, suffice it to say that my efforts for healthfulness in that journey were not met with success, and for a variety of reasons I have chosen to depart from a mostly-vegan diet. Though many of my meals are still vegan, and I think that it is a truly admirable and healthful way of life, it’s just not right for me, right now. Though I’ve reverted back to my fish and cheese and egg-eating ways (oh runny yolks, how I missed you), I haven’t been as quick to jump back on the totally-omnivorous track, though perhaps that will come. Phew, now that that’s off my chest, we can proceed.

This little meal here I think serves as a wonderful bridge between my last post and what I imagine for those in the future. While fishing practices for certain species have vastly degraded the environment and left certain fish on the verge of extinction, sardines are an exception and a great sustainable choice, as they’re abundant and have high reproductive rates. Not only that, but those little buggers are healthy as hell, boasting awesome amounts of omega-3s and essential proteins, and since sardines are low in the food chain, the mercury levels in sardines are much, much lower than their big-eye tuna brethren. Eat your sardines from a can and you’ll receive an added bonus: the teeny little bones, which can barely be detected, are a great source of calcium. Oh yea, they're cheap too.

Now I realize what I’m proposing may be a bit of a hard sell. But before you balk at the mere idea of sardines, hear me out. Canned tuna is eaten with vim across this country – and I maintain that canned sardines should be too. Though they’ve gotten a bit of a bad rap from their former status as a recession-friendly food (and, fine, their stink), there are many who take great joy in eating them straight from the can with some mustard and crackers. There’s even an entire blog devoted to them. If the idea of straight tin-to-cracker sardine consumption sounds a bit intense for you, let me propose something a bit more dressed-up, which should calm some fears about the fishiness and “ick factor” of sardines. I can find little fault in a meal of sardines, dressed in a mixture of sherry vinegar, lemon and parsley. Add some avocado and delicious bread, and you have an open-faced sandwich that’s pretty damn good all around.

This sandwich idea comes from Alton Brown, who hailed it as his diet savior – and that makes total sense – this is a meal that is balanced, healthy and totally satisfying. And because sardines are oily fish, the sandwich has a certain richness while still feeling virtuous. So go on, embrace the sardine.

Sardine and Avocado Sandwich

Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches
Adapted from Alton Brown

I usually use one tin per two open-faced sandwiches, though bigger appetites may want to use the whole tin; the leftover sardine mix stays well in the fridge and makes the second sandwich a breeze to prepare. I have used both oil- and water-packed sardines with success. If you use water-packed sardines, be sure to add some oil to the mix, about a tablespoon or so will do, though do note that the oil from the tin lends great flavor to the sandwich. I like to add a little bit of Dijon mustard and onion, but both are entirely optional. Alton recommends brushing the bread with the sardine oil before toasting – I think this is unnecessary.

1 tin sardines
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, additional for garnish
1.5 – 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (if you don’t have sherry vinegar, substitute lemon juice, but the sherry really does add a very nice touch)
1/8 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, or to taste (optional)
1 tablespoon onion
2 slices of bread (I like using a whole wheat sourdough; try to pick a bread with a good bite, as opposed to sandwich bread)
½ ripe avocado
salt and pepper to taste

If using oil-packed sardines, drain the oil from the tin into a bowl. If using water-packed, drain off and discard the water and add one tablespoon of olive oil to a bowl. Add the parsley, sherry, lemon zest, and, if using, the mustard and onion to the bowl. Add the sardines and mix to combine, mashing a bit if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside for a few minutes to allow the flavors to combine (in the refrigerator if not using for more than an hour).

When you’re ready to assemble, toast the bread. Mash the avocado half in its skin and divide between the two slices of bread, spreading the avocado evenly to cover the bread. Divide the sardine mixture evenly between the two slices of bread, spreading it out over the avocado. Sprinkle sandwiches with additional parsley and finish with a squeeze a lemon. Then, enjoy.

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