The Beginning - Sardines, Greeks, and Salt!
Tinned sardines or conservas are a quintessential Portuguese treat enjoyed in restaurants, at kitchen tables and seaside picnics across Portugal and the globe. This delicious and nutritious Portuguese delicacy finds its origins in the Iron Age when the Phoenicians and Greeks caught wild sardines off the coast of Portugal and preserved them in containers filled with salt. The sheer abundance and quality of sardines across Portugal’s expansive coastline propelled this fish to become a national treasure both preserved and eaten fresh as history progressed.
Hitting the Big Time
In 1853 Portugal's first commercial cannery opened outside of Lisbon and in Portugal’s Algarve - canning sardines in Portuguese olive oil. The demand skyrocketed in Portugal and abroad as these delicious easily transportable treats began to hit the international market. One of the pioneering factories was founded by Clemente Méneres of Quinta do Romeu in the mid 1800s, canning sardines in the pure olive oil of the Douro Valley, which is still available today.
The Tinned Gold Rush
Entrepreneurs, particularly the French who were experiencing a sardine shortage on their shores, poured into Portugal for its sardine gold rush in the early 1900s. More and more tinned fish factories popped up, cementing Portugal as one of the globe’s epicenters of the tinned fish business.
A Sardine a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Tinned sardines are lauded by doctors as one of the healthiest foods on the planet. A recent study published in the Washington Post praised tinned sardines for their super low mercury levels, and the incredible omega 3 count - over 1,000 milligrams in just 3 ½ ounces! Making them even healthier is a natural process they go through when they are canned (gelification) which breaks down the bones so they are easily digestible - and boom, bones bring a ton of added nutrients!
How to Enjoy
Super high quality Portuguese tinned sardines, like José Gourmet, can be enjoyed simply with crackers and a piece of toast. They can also be added to a salad, pizza, pasta. And for wine, I would suggest pairing like food and wines for this one - so a fresh zippy Portuguese Vinho Verde would match the brightness and acidity of the sardines. My next blog post will chronicle more involved recipes!
All Things Sardine!
Traveling back and forth from Portugal to the US for my business importing Portuguese wine and olive oil, I always make sure to slip some tinned sardines into my luggage! Missing them during this year with no travel, I have dedicated a new page on my online Portuguese shop to all things sardines - and sardine pairings. Cheers! - Rachel Farah