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Cooks Embrace Eco-Friendly, Healthful Species

Cooks Embrace Eco-Friendly, Healthful Species

Sardines are gaining popularity on Americans' plates.

Chicago Tribune

Sardines, herrings and anchovies are very much “in season” for chefs across the country looking to make a savory and sustainable statement with fish.

These species were long ignored or scorned because they were: 1. small; 2. oily and thus assertively flavored; 3. were usually sold packed in yucky cans or bottles.

Today, chefs love that small fish come with equally small price tags and are a more eco-friendly choice than larger fish. Chefs celebrate the heart-healthy properties of fish oil and the distinctive flavor of sardines, herrings and anchovies. And forget the cans; modern shipping means we can get ’em fresh and of the highest quality.

For Brian Huston, chef de cuisine at Chicago’s The Publican restaurant, tasting today’s sardine and herring dishes is like eating supermarket apples all your life and suddenly discovering what it’s like to bite into an artisan apple fresh off the farm.

“Sardines may seem scary, and here you are setting them down on the table,” he said. “I think when people taste this food they get a new gauge of where it’s at.”

Huston likes the “bold and in-your-face flavor” of these fishes. He pickles herring and serves them with bacon on toast. He roasts sardines wrapped in grape leaves and serves them with pine nuts, grapes and yogurt. He likes the change of pace these fish offer.

“I could do halibut every night, but it’s nice to get a high quality sardine,” said Huston, who picks his up from Southwest Airlines at Midway Airport.

Over at Sepia, also in Chicago, Chef Andrew Zimmerman prepared the usual staff “cheat sheet” when he introduced a dish of “house cured sardines with local tomatoes and olive oil jam” on the menu.

“The sardine,” it begins. “A small, much maligned fish that is popular the world over … but not so much in the U.S. We hope to change that.”

Maybe, just maybe, Sepia has done that to a degree.

“Sales outstripped my expectations,” said Zimmerman, who described himself as “that crazy man who likes sardines.”

“No one likes sardines,” he exclaimed.

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