Pourquoi les sardines en boite du Portugal sont les meilleures et comment les choisir ?

Why are canned sardines from Portugal the best and how to choose them?

★ The Phoenicians were already eating sardines.

The Phoenicians fished sardines on a large scale and preserved them in salt. For the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, the sardine was a common food eaten fresh or preserved in barrels of salt.
In the Middle Ages, sardines were consumed throughout Europe. It was then discovered that it could be preserved in vinegar, olive oil or melted butter.
However, the canning of sardines in oil as we know it today did not appear until the 19th century, with the discovery of canning.

 

★ Not all sardines are sardines

The term "sardine" appeared in the 13th century. It comes from the Latin expression "sardae sine sardinae", literally "fish of Sardinia". This word is often used, wrongly, to refer to about twenty species of small fish: sardinella, sardinops, sprats, anchovies, herring... which can have very different tastes and properties.

The real sardine is the "Sardina pilchardus" which lives off the coast, in sometimes very compact schools, between 10 and 50m below the surface. The "Sardina pilchardus" can be found in the Mediterranean Sea, but especially in the whole North Atlantic Ocean from Ireland to the Azores via France, Portugal and Morocco.

  

★ Sardines are excellent for your health.

Protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. First of all, sardines are a very good source of protein, a source of energy essential for the human body to function. It also contains 10 to 12% lipids but with a very high proportion of Omega-3 fatty acids, which effectively restores the proportion between Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids and thus reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Essential vitamins and nutrients. Sardines also contain nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus or selenium with their antioxidant properties. In addition, it contains vitamin D and B group vitamins, including vitamin B3, which regulates cholesterol and triglycerides.

A fish little affected by pollution. Sardines are caught young (1 to 2 years old), which does not give them time to accumulate mercury. Moreover, it is a small fish that is at the very beginning of the food chain and does not concentrate various pollutants. It is said to be a non-bioaccumulative fish.

 

 

  

★ Canned sardines

The canned food was invented in 1795 by Nicolas Appert, but it was in the second half of the 19th century, after several improvements, that this conservation process became widely used.

Today, most sardine canneries are industrial, but in France and Portugal there survives an excellent artisanal production whose methods have not changed much since the beginning.

In Portugal, it all began in Vila Real de Santo António when in 1865 canning was first used in a tuna processing factory owned by the Ramirez company.

By 1950, there were more than 150 canneries throughout Portugal. Today, there are still 14 that stand out for the quality of their production due to the freshness of the sardines and the production methods that have remained artisanal.

 

★ Portuguese sardine canning: a tradition of excellence.

In Portugal, the canneries are concentrated around 6 fishing ports: Matosinhos near Porto, Peniche between Porto and Lisbon, Sesimbra and Setúbal south of Lisbon, Portimão and Olhão in the very south of Portugal.
All the canneries are located close to the 6 fishing ports and work only with very fresh sardines, some of them do not even need a cold room.

Here there is no question of using frozen sardines from Morocco. In any case, the sardine, a fatty fish, does not tolerate freezing very well.

A clear origin. The constraint today for these canneries, which have maintained a tradition of excellence, is the rarefaction of the "pilchardus" species and the consequent drop in fishing quotas. Sardina pilchardus must be fished between the beginning of May and the end of October. Before and after these dates, the fish are not fat enough or are in the breeding season. These canneries are therefore 100% dependent on Portuguese fishing grounds and refuse to source their supplies elsewhere at the risk of reducing the quality of their production.

Methods that are still artisanal. As soon as the boats return, the fresh sardines are peeled, gutted and then pre-cooked in oil rather than steamed. They are then manually put back in their cans after having been selected. The cans are then filled with quality olive oil, the can is then crimped before being canned. All these operations are manual, which guarantees perfectly selected sardines, prepared and stored in their tins.

 

★ My advice for choosing your canned sardines.

 

Sardines are prepared before cooking. Their heads are removed, they are gutted and the fins are removed. All these operations are manual and repeated, after cooking, before final canning. This means that the skin and bones are preserved. According to some, this is essential because the taste of the sardine is better preserved and the calcium intake is higher. After a few months, the skin and bones almost disappear and melt into the flesh. 

However, others find the presence of skin and bones unpleasant. In this case, there are canned sardine fillets without skin and bones. These are a little more expensive because they require a lot more handling, but this is the guarantee of a can containing only the flesh of the sardine fillets.

The cans generally contain 4 sardines. These are therefore calibrated to fill a can completely. I encourage you to discover the Portuguese "petingas". These are smaller sardines in rows of 6 in a can. It's all a question of taste, but for me, they are tastier and more tender.

Gourmets say that the best canned sardines are those prepared in olive oil, "parée au blanc", because it is the white belly of the sardine that is offered to the eye.

Others prefer sardines in peanut oil. In fact, it's all a matter of taste. The aroma of olive oil eventually merges with that of sardines, whereas peanut oils would better preserve the taste of the fish.

 

Gourmets swear by canned sardines simply prepared with olive oil, but there are many other tasty preparations that you must discover.
Of course, you can easily find tinned sardines with a fillet or slice of lemon, tinned sardines in a simple tomato sauce or spiced with Portuguese piri-piri.

I recommend you also try canned sardines "à l'escabèche", a marinade made with oil, vinegar, bay leaf, parsley, tomato purée and garlic. You will also find preserves prepared with olive oil and curry, olive oil and red peppers, pepper, oregano, pickles? Ideal variations to prepare an aperitif.   

 The legislation in force obviously applies to canned sardines and no trader is allowed to sell canned sardines whose use-by date has passed. This deadline is generally 2 years after canning for sardines.

However, canned sardines improve with age because, over time, an osmosis occurs between the fish and the oil. Some amateurs even enjoy them after seven or eight years, taking care to turn the cans over every six months (which is actually useless and is linked to the habits of the past when the cans were not full). A good can of sardines is therefore an old can of sardines.

 The so-called "vintage" sardines are a pure marketing invention. In fact it simply means that the sardines put in tins are from the same fishing campaign. This is the case of all canned sardines in Portugal. On the other hand, an industrialist who uses frozen sardines from Morocco, all from the same fishing campaign (i.e. frozen at the same time) can call his production "vintage sardines", which is an absolute paradox!

Very often, our customers ask us for these vintage sardines because they have tasted them with friends or in a restaurant !!! We cannot sell preserves that have passed their use-by date, even if they are better. This is forbidden by law. On the other hand, nothing prevents you from storing your preserves for tasting in a few years.

 

Will canned sardines become a rare product? Consumers don't always realize when they open a can of sardines that it may soon become a luxury item.

Luisa Paixao
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