Pictured: The Brown Sardine Open-Faced Sandwich recipe from CHOW
We're told time and time again that a healthy diet includes plenty of fish. That may be true, but which fish exactly? Not all species are the same when it comes to nutrition, plus there are always lingering questions about overfishing and other environmental concerns.
One category that's consistently a safe bet, however, is the oily fish toward the bottom of the food chain: mackerel, sardines, herring, and anchovies. Not only are they packed with healthful omega-3s, they are sustainable species that often get overlooked in favor of their higher-up predators, like cod and tuna.
Many people seem to be turned off by the little guys, however. I’d guess it's because of the common perception of them as mushy, funky stuff from a tin. Prepare them right, however, and they're a marvel to behold. From hors d'oeuvres and apps to full-fledged dinners, here are nine recipes that will make you fall in love with the forgotten fishes, whether it's for the first time or all over again.
1. Spicy Mackerel with Chiles and Tomato Recipe
Unlike a lot of other fish, mackerel has a robust texture and assertive flavor, meaning it can hold steady in the face of bold seasonings. Even here, it does not wince in the presence of spicy jalapeño, chili powder, and cumin. Get our Spicy Mackerel with Chiles and Tomato recipe.
2. Smoked Mackerel Salad with Crunchy Vegetables
Mackerel is my favorite smoked fish, hardy enough to take on a truly deep and complex smoke flavor. It’s always kind of astonishing how that aroma can expand even further in a creamy salad, scenting every scoop with an addictive perfume. Get the recipe here.
3. Charmoula-Stuffed Sardines
This might just be the ultimate fish fry: Fleshy, fresh sardines get stuffed with an herbed and spiced charmoula, before being battered and crisped in oil. Old-fashioned fish and chips looks downright basic after this. Get the recipe here.
4. Baked Sardines, Kale, Pine Nuts, and Raisins
It might be awhile before sardines earn their status as a sexy food, but I wouldn’t think twice about serving these as part of a cozy meal for two. And if my date can’t get down with that, sorry—that’s a deal-breaker on my end. Get the recipe here.
5. Beet and Herring Salad with Potatoes and Apples
It’s not hard to understand why salads like these feature prominently in Nordic cuisines. Packed with vitamins and nutrients, they’re incredibly sustaining, perfect fare for making it through a long winter. Get the recipe here.
6. Inlagd Sill (Pickled Herring)
While you can find pickled herring in grocery stores, so much of what’s out there is on the cloying side. If you can get your hands on some herring fillets, there’s nothing better than making your own and getting that sour-sweet balance just right. Get the recipe here.
7. Charred Romanesco with Anchovies and Mint
If your only experience with anchovies is the heavily salted, preserved kind, you might be shocked to taste them fresh-cured. They have a bright, perky flavor that pairs naturally with nutty, earthy vegetables like romanesco. Get the recipe here.
8. White Anchovy Toast with Pickled Fennel and Apple
Could these toasts be any more sophisticated? Or simple? Anchovies get layered between a swipe of crème fraîche and apples and fennel sliced thin with a mandoline, for an elegant composition in white and pale green. Get the recipe here.
9. Pantry Pissaladière
This list wouldn’t be complete without at least one ode to glutamate-packing preserved anchovies. To shake things up, instead of pizza, try them on a pissaladière, a Provençal flatbread that pairs the fish with sweet caramelized onions and briny, dark olives. Get the recipe here.
Miki Kawasaki is a New York City–based food writer and graduate of Boston University's program in Gastronomy. Few things excite her more than a well-crafted sandwich or expertly spiced curry. If you ever run into her at a dinner party, make sure to hit her up for a few pieces of oddball culinary trivia.