There can scarcely be a health-conscious eater out there who hasn’t heard about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Though I’m no doctor, many have asked me about the health benefits of these versus all the dangers one is also told lurk in fish. Here I’m guided by the French woman’s principle of everything in moderation: have it once a week. Still, salmon can be pricey, especially if it’s wild, which is really the only kind worth eating: some studies indicate that farmed salmon can have eight times the concentrations of environmental toxins as the wild, and only a fraction of the good fats. Yet, as I don’t expect the seas to get any cleaner, I fear for what may happen to wild salmon in a generation. For this reason I’m very keen on sardines as a much more affordable alternative. I enjoy the flavor; they’re just as rich in omega-3’s as wild salmon; and since they’re small, they’re further down on the food chain, with that much less opportunity to harbor toxins in the creatures they eat. In this dish the accompaniment is simply carrots and leeks, two vegetables found in my fridge most of the year, either cooked or waiting to be. Leftovers are great served on a piece of country bread covered with a slice of Swiss or Cheddar cheese and grilled till the cheese melts.
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
10 ounces leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
12 medium sardines (about 1 1⁄2 pounds)
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
Juice of 1 lemon
Yield: 4 Servings
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Warm 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet. Add the carrots, and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add 1/3 cup water, season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the leeks and shallots. Cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. Add the butter, and cook a minute or two more. Put the sardines in one layer in a shallow 9x13 baking dish. Drizzle the remaining oil over them, season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle with oregano. Bake 5 to 7 minutes on each side. Drizzle with the lemon juice, and serve with carrots and leeks.