Quick, Easy Baked Fish

Many people are afraid to cook fish. Our society has more experience with poultry and red meat. But fish and seafood offer many health benefits and can be mighty tasty, too. People who live on or near the coast are well aware of the sea’s bounty. But in the Midwest, fresh seafood can be very hard to find. Almost always it must be frozen to get to landlocked states without spoiling. And we know that frozen fish or seafood can end up watery, mushy and foul tasting because of what the freezing process can do to the flesh.

But I recently found a way of cooking frozen fish that is easy, quick and very flavorful. You might want to try it. But first, let’s look at the best way to thaw fish before you start cooking.

Obviously, the best way to thaw frozen fish from the market is to allow it is sit, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for six to 12 hours. Sometimes it may take longer, depending on the size and quantity of the fish. Remember to put the packet of frozen fish on a platter or in a dish to catch any water that comes off the fish as it thaws.

If you’re in a hurry, you can place the frozen package under running cold water for one to two hours per pound. You can also put the fish in a sealable plastic bag and put that in a bowl of cold water. Change the water every half hour. Remember to use safe food handling guidelines and keep the thawing fish isolated and clean everything it touches thoroughly after.

Do NOT try to defrost in the microwave. All you get then is partially cooked fish likely to dry out when you cook the rest of it. Also, do not thaw the fish on the kitchen counter. Once that fish gets warm it gets dangerous. And don’t refreeze thawed fish. Cook it as soon as possible once thawed.

Now that you have your thawed fish, it’s time to get cooking.

Mexican Baked Fish


  • 1 to 2 pounds thawed fish fillets
  • 1 cup salsa, jarred or homemade
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 1/2 cup crushed corn chips
  • 1/4 cup sour cream


  1. Press the water from the thawed fish fillets using paper towels. Attempt to get as dry as possible.
  2. Preheat oven to 400F. Grease a baking dish.
  3. Lay the fillets in dish and pour salsa over them. Sprinkle with the shredded cheese and then top with the crushed corn chips. Don’t add any more salt, but a couple grinds of black pepper would go well.
  4. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
  5. Top with sour cream before serving.

This goes great with rice and beans.

Possible Higher Mercury Content In Some Fish

It’s a dilemma. Nutritionists say we should be eating more fish, especially sea-going oily fish. But many fish species are nearly fished out of existence. We’re supposed to be getting more lean protein, like that in seafood. But polluted oceans have given us a new danger — mercury poisoning.

Remember when actor Jeremy Piven was hospitalized for mercury poisoning? He pointed to his high consumption of sushi as the culprit. That shined a spotlight on the issue of mercury in fish.

Now, a consumer advocacy group in California has found higher amounts of this metal in supermarket fish than allowed by federal regulations. The group, Got Mercury?, tested swordfish, ahi tuna, yellowfin tuna and salmon from more than 40 stores around the state. According to Good Magazine, the results were not good.

“Their findings include the startling fact that more than a third of the grocery store fish studied had levels of methylmercury in excess of the the FDA do-not-sell limit of 1 part per million, with swordfish being by far the worst offender. In fact, only 6 of the 32 swordfish samples analyzed came in below 1 part per million, and one fish, purchased at a Ralph’s in Los Angeles, had 3 parts per million.”

What does that mean? Mercury is a naturally occurring element. But it can cause mental illness and other serious diseases, even death, if the amounts in our bodies get too high. The Food and Drug Administration and other agencies have long recommended that pregnant women and young children avoid eating those kinds of fish known to have high mercury content, like swordfish and bluefin tuna.

How did it get there? Years of burning coal has resulted in mercury finding its way into our food supply. Mercury was common in the swamps of prehistoric Earth. It settled into the mud and was covered up by dying plants. Over millions of years, that plant and mud gunk became coal. When coal is burned, the mercury is released into the air as vapor. It attaches to water droplets in clouds and becomes part of the rain. The water then runs off into streams, rivers and eventually into the oceans where it gets into the plants and animals that live there.

What’s the danger? Mercury poisoning usually is cumulative, meaning it builds up over time. There’s some mercury in the air, but it’s the type that our bodies can deal with. Methylmercury does not break down and can become lodged in the muscles and fat tissue of our bodies. The smallest marine animals filter nutrients out of the sea water, so they pick up the diluted mercury. As small fish eat those and then are eaten by larger fish, the concentration of mercury increases. The highest, most dangerous amounts are in those fish that grow large and live for more than five years. Those include swordfish and the largest of the tunas, bluefin. Mercury can be found in smaller fish like yellowfin tuna and salmon, but usually in amounts small enough that poisoning is unlikely unless you eat a lot of it. And by a lot of it, we mean a lot more than eating fish two or three times a week.

What can we do about it? First of all, both swordfish and bluefin tuna are endangered so you shouldn’t be eating them anyway. Stick to smaller tuna species for sushi. Also, smaller fish like sardines have high nutrient value, are more sustainable but are less likely to contain problem amounts of mercury. Cooking does help partially break down mercury, but doesn’t completely remove it. If you are pregnant, elderly, under 12 or have chronic health issues, limit or avoid exposure to raw fish and cooked versions of large fish. Also, we can demand better funding of those state and federal agencies responsible for regulating our food supply so they have the tools to locate and remove these problems before they get to our table.

Cooking tips & techniques: Ramen Noodle Soup

At one time or another, nearly all of us find ourselves relying on ramen noodle soups. This is because they are one of the most inexpensive and filling food items you can buy. Some of you, in a Scarlett O’Hara mood will say, “As God as my witness I will never eat Ramen again!”

But this is bachelor food. It’s also fashionable food. Noodle shops are springing up around the country like mushrooms. They are popular throughout Asia. And the ramen noodles you buy in those packets are not really different from the popular restaurant noodle dishes. What makes a great noodle soup is the broth. That’s is where those packs and cups fall short because they rely on those flavor packets.

Oh, those flavor packets! Salt, salt and more salt. Yuck. But there are ways to improve not only the flavor but the nutrition from ramen noodle soup, even those cheap packs.

We have a friend who loves those ramen noodles. Often he uses only a small amount of the flavor packet and then others spices, most of them very hot, to the bowl. Try making your ordinary ramen noodles your own by adding some of your favorite savory flavors.

Here are a few tips:

  • Soup up your soup. Got leftovers? This is a great way to use up those little odds and ends that can accumulate. I know we were all taught to clean our plates, but why not instead save that little bit you don’t really need and put it into a ramen soup for lunch or a quick dinner? This way you don’t overeat and you get a really good soup the next day. Also, adding ingredients and a little water will thin out all that salt.
  • Use broth instead of water. You should have a can or carton, or if you’re like me a jar of homemade, chicken, beef, shrimp, seafood or vegetable broth around the house. If you don’t, you should. Use this instead of water. Just turn the heat down to a simmer after you bring to a boil and put the noodles in. But DON’T use that flavor packet. There are other things to do if you don’t like throwing things like that away.
  • Turn it into a main dish. Don’t cook the noodles all the way and then drain. Don’t add the flavor packet. Heat up a wok pan adding some red pepper flakes or chili oil to your usual oil. Stir fry some beef or other protein, even tofu, with ginger and garlic. Add enough broth to make a nice soup along with some soy sauce (I recommend Tamari). When hot, add fresh spinach and shredded carrots and the noodles and stir until everything is hot and the spinach is wilted. That’s it. You can even top it all with some chopped peanuts. It’s really good.
  • Use the flavor packets for something else. Add part to a pot of water for rice or pasta. Sprinkle a little over steamed vegetables with some Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar.

So, ramen noodles don’t have to be awful. Just use a little thought. Now get cooking.

American Cheese Is Neither

I don’t like American Cheese product. Note I don’t call it cheese, because it isn’t. Some brands do have SOME cheese in them. But most popular, inexpensive brands are made of whey, which is the waste water from cheese making, oil, flavoring and salt. Lots of salt. Always beware of a product that contains a lot of salt, because it probably means it has no flavor without it.

Now we’re finding out that not only is American Cheese product not cheese, we’re also learning it’s not American! With U.S. dairy farmers and the brink of collapse, makers of American Cheese product are IMPORTING the ingredients they use. So, when you’re buying American Cheese product or ordering it on your food, you’re actually helping to kill off American farmers. That’s more than just unpatriotic.

And why would you eat this stuff? There are so many wonderful cheeses available, including some very good ones from Wisconsin, Vermont and California. I guess that’s another symptom of the disease that is gripping the United States. We have bored our taste buds to death, so we pay no attention to what we eat, so we get fat and sick.

First of all, you may have noticed that the makers of this product have relabeled it. The packages used to say “a processed cheese food.” Now they’ve replaced the word “processed” with something that means the same thing. Apparently, they’ve noticed that some people are avoiding processed food and want to take that word out of it.

Still, that’s what it is. But it wasn’t always that. American cheese, as a real cheese, did exist for a while prior to World War II. It was a blended cheese made mostly from Colby and Cheddar, melted together with some milk. It was originally made during Revolutionary times because of the rising price of English cheddar. When milk became a rationed commodity, American cheese was the only type available for most U.S. consumers. In the wake of World War II, cheese makers began using non-cheese ingredients like whey and whey protein, along with vegetable oil, water and milkfat.

I just can’t see why someone would eat those pre-wrapped “slices” that are not sliced and look like a piece of soft plastic. The less they look like food, the less likely they ARE food. These are extruded, like waste from an animal’s rear end and are about as appetizing.

If you MUST have American Cheese, buy the higher-end stuff that actually LOOKS like cheese and looks like it might really have been sliced off a larger block. These usually have at least SOME cheese in them. And try to buy those made from American ingredients from American cows. The label will tell you.

Why is that important? Because American dairy farmers are being put out of business by low prices on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Most of the ingredients, like whey protein concentrate, are imported, because the imported product is even cheaper. That’s being done by the big food companies that are now getting even bigger. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack just stated that the top 10 food companies now control over 80 percent of food in the U.S., up from around 65 percent just a year ago. This consolidation of the industry makes it even harder for small family-run dairies to stay in business.

So, check the labels. If milk isn’t the first ingredient, put it back. If it doesn’t say it’s from American cows, put it back. And try the whole wonderful world of cheeses, from fresh Farmers Cheese (soft, white, a bit like Ricotta) to good old Wisconsin cheddar, from goat cheese (really yummy on a bagel) to Pecorino (a hard Parmesan type cheese made from sheep’s milk, there are a lot of other choices you may have never tried. And they can be used on a sandwich just as easily as those processed slices.

Bring better food into your Bachelor’s Kitchen.

Bachelor’s Best Meatloaf

We all know about meatloaf. It was a way to stretch a small amount of meat into a full meal by adding breadcrumbs, an egg, sometimes milk, and maybe some vegetables. There are hundreds of recipes. But here is ours. This main dish has lots of room for variations and favorite ingredients.


You will need a pan to put the meatloaf in for cooking. Many recipes call for a loaf pan, such as one would use to bake bread. But prefer something a bit bigger and more open, but deep enough to keep any grease from spilling all over the over. You can even use a rimmed cookie sheet. We like an 8-by-4 inch pan lined with aluminum foil to make clean-up easy.

You’ll also need a large mixing bowl and a small bowl to lightly beat an egg with a fork or small whisk. Use the same small bowl to soak breadcrumbs in the milk.


  • 1-1/12 pounds of ground beef. We recommend an 80-20 mix for the best flavor. Too little fat in the meat will make the loaf dry. Too much fat will make the meatloaf sitting in a puddle of grease. You can also use what some call a “meatloaf mix” of ground beef, ground pork and usually veal or ground turkey.
  • 1 teaspoon of salt and an equal amount of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs. We like to use Panko. You can also just tear up a couple slices of bread. Whatever you do, do not use the stuff that comes in a canister and looks like sawdust. You know why it looks like that? Because manufacturers are allowed by law to include cellulose, or sawdust, in the mix, up to 50%. Also, the larger breadcrumbs will react better with the milk, as you’ll see when we get to the instructions.
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/3 cup thick steak sauce, like Heinz 57 or A-1
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce.
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced green bell pepper, about half to two-thirds of a pepper. Save the rest to top a salad.


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).
  2. In a small bowl, mix milk with breadcrumbs and allow the bread to soak up the milk.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine meat, salt, pepper, 3 tablespoons of steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, onion, green pepper and milk-soaked breadcrumbs. Mix with hands until evenly distributed. Also, add any additional spices and herbs to the mix according to your tastes.
  4. Line the pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
  5. Mix remaining steak sauce with ketchup and set aside.
  6. Transfer the meat mixture to the pan and shape into a loaf. Pour or brush ketchup-steak sauce mixture over the meatloaf.
  7. Bake in preheated oven for about one hour or until done. Allow it to stand at least five minutes before slicing and serving.

For side dishes, mashed potatoes, rice pilaf and glazed sauteed vegetables and a green salad. This makes about six to eight servings. And cold meatloaf makes a great sandwich.

Keep Your Wine In Good Shape

Now that you know a few things about wine and you’re starting to taste different wines, it’s time to think about keeping your wine in the best possible quality.

But first, let’s take one last look at selecting the right wine for the occasion. You may have noticed that many descriptions of wines include possible food pairings. While the best wine is the one you like, some types of wine go better with certain foods than others.

The general rule of thumb is that light and fruity wines go well with lighter, more delicate food. Wines with a hardier flavor and robust tannins go best with rustic or spicy food. That is not, as we have noted, a hard and fast rule. Many white wines go amazingly well with spicy foods. The best bet? Find a good wine shop and ask someone working there. They are exposed to many wines and know a lot about what goes with what. Until you’re more sure of your footing, follow their commendations. But go with your own tastes, not what someone else thinks you should like. Price does NOT determine quality or taste. Start with a recommendation and then explore from there.

When you find a wine you really like, one that goes well with the kind of food you like and the kind of entertaining you do, go ahead and buy a case. The cost savings are usually worth it. Plus, you always have a favorite wine handy when needed.

Storing wine

Now that you’ve got your wine home, you have to think about storing your investment so you get the most out of it when you want. Some wines are made to drink right away. These are usually the every day, less distinguished wines like beaujolais, reioja, and pinot. Others, like a bordeaux, are meant to hang out in a cool, dark place for a few years. In either case, storing your wine is important.

Remember that wine is a living, breathing thing. Many wines continue to change in the bottle for several years, even when stored correctly. The first rule is to protect it from light. Wine cellars are usually in basements for a reason. Wine bottles are usually colored so light doesn’t penetrate to the wine so easily. If you get a glass-fronted wine refrigerator, make sure it’s not in direct sunlight.

If the wine bottle has a natural cork, store the bottle on its side so the wine touches the cork and keeps it moist. When corks dry out, they shrink, allowing air (and germs) to get inside and ruin the wine. Also, this allows you to see better any sediment that might develop in the wine. If this happens, you’ll want to decant the wine into another container, pouring the wine through cheesecloth.

Keep the wine at a constant temperature. This is another reason why wine cellars are in basements. Whatever you do, don’t let the wind get above 75F. You also don’t want it to get too cold. Below 50 is getting too cold for the wine to mature properly. Around 55 is just right.

If you don’t have a basement, a dark closet is a good choice. I know it’s tempting to display your selection of wine to impress your friends, neighbors and dates, but resist the urge. And once you’ve got it settled, don’t move it around any more than necessary. Wine likes a quiet place to sleep, so try to cushion it from outside vibrations like traffic or motors.

Keep the humidity around 70%. Too dry and the cork may dry out or the wine may actually evaporate even in a sealed bottle. Too humid and mold develops and labels fall off.

Don’t keep it in a smelly place. The aromas will get into the wine. And check with your wine merchant about how long the wine should be stored. Not all wines keep well for years and years.

When you’re ready to serve, take the time to get the wine to the correct temperature. Ice buckets are only useful to initially cool down sparkling, rose or dry white wines. After the wine is cooled, take it out of the ice and wrap the bottle in a towel to keep it from warming up too fast. Red wines should be served closer to room temperature, about 65F. Many red wines benefit from being “allowed to breathe.” That means opening the wine and allowing it to react with the air for 20 minutes to an hour. The process can be shortened by aerating, which involves pouring the wine into a decanter or other container giving the air a chance to get into the wine as it splashes into the other container.

Collecting wine. If you really get serious about wine, collecting wines is a great pastime and gives you the chance to enjoy the fruits of your labors. But you might want to make a wine storage place. There are plenty of Do-It-Yourself projects to turn a closet into a wine cellar. You can also invest in a wine refrigerator.

Wine as a gift. It used to be that most of us were brought up to believe that you never went empty-handed to someone’s home. A bottle of wine was usually a good choice. Even if it didn’t go with what was being served, it was something the hosts could keep for later. These days, that’s a more dangerous choice. If you don’t know the hosts well, check with mutual friends for possible snares, like alcoholism, tea-totalers and picky tastes. The last thing you want to do is offend them. If wine doesn’t seem like a good choice, flowers or baked goods might be a better choice. If wine is still a good idea, try to keep in mind the tastes of the hosts. If you don’t know what that is, then choose one of your personal favorites.

Wine is a marvelous thing. You can help spread the love by throwing a wine tasting party. Your wine merchant will be happy to help you develop what’s called a “flight.” That’s a series of wines that go together in some way and usually progresses the same way a meal does: appetizer, soup or salad, main course, dessert. If you haven’t tried a glass of wine with dinner, now’s the time to try it.

You Can Replace SOME Of The Fat

Remember that old saying about being able to fool only some of the people some of the time? That applies to cooking as well. We’re always looking for ways to cut the fat in some of our favorite dishes. But that’s not easy to do in many cases because of the flavor that fat gives to the dish. Also, many methods of lowering fat involves lots of artificial ingredients, flavorings and chemicals. In my opinion, that’s not always a worthy trade-off.

But in many cases we can replace a substantial part of the fat in our recipes with a little creativity. But I must warn you that you will have to make these judgements for yourself. There are things I’m not willing to give up that you might, and visa versa.

Milk. The difference in fat between whole milk and skim is about 8 grams per cup. That’s not a tremendous amount, but it depends on how much you use. You need to keep your daily fat intake to 30 grams or less, so that 8 grams can be a big help if you drink a lot of milk. Personally, I believe in taking the middle ground. I usually use 1% percent milk. That has the lowest amount of fat while still having some of the taste of the regular milk. If your store doesn’t carry 1%, 2% is a good choice.

Cheese. There’s a lot of fat in cheese. One cup of grated cheese has 80 grams of fat. So use it sparingly. There are fat-free cheeses out there and they can be okay in some uses, but not all. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Cream cheese. I’m not a big fan of fat-free cream cheese. It just doesn’t seem to have the flavor I want from cream cheese. A good substitute is goat cheese, which is very low in fat and has a tangy flavor that works really well on a bagel.

Ground Turkey for Ground Beef. This is a tough one. In most cases, ground turkey is very lean and you will have to add fat just to cook it. But if you use olive oil, you can at least add better quality fat than what’s usually in meat. I would recommend staying away from frozen ground turkey. I just don’t like the way it acts when it thaws out. I find it gets all watery and nasty. But the fat savings are substantial, 115 grams of fat per pound between them.

Egg Substitute. Eggs are not the worst thing in the world, even if you have cholesterol problems. I’m not convinced medical science has a firm handle on this issue. Real eggs have about 6 grams of fat each more than egg substitutes. That’s not a huge savings. Egg substitutes don’t work well on their own. I find the grainy texture and lack of flavor of scrambled egg substitute not worth the fat savings. However, it does work well in baking or a breakfast casserole. Real eggs also have beneficial compounds the fake stuff doesn’t have. Also, the substitutes are filled with artificial ingredients and chemicals. I just don’t think that’s such a good trade off. And don’t get me started on egg whites. Definitely, there are uses for egg white, like when you’re making a souffle. But they should not be used for eggs by themselves. The taste makes me gag. I’d rather do without.

Oil by definition has fat in it. But some fats are better than others. Olive oil, for example, we know has lots of good fat which far outweighs the bad. But here’s a tip. In most baking, you can replace the oil in the recipe with unsweetened applesauce. It does a good job of replacing the volume and retaining moistness that oil does. But it doesn’t work in yeast breads.

Little things can cut the fat without sacrifice taste or giving over to lots of chemicals. Just be a little creative and choosy. We all need some fat for our bodies to work properly. But we don’t need so much.

Summer Eating: Cold Soup

Soup is one of those foods that are ideal for bachelors. They are easy to make, can contain just about anything and be used as a main dish, side dish or even a snack. They are easy to re-heat and store. They can even travel well.

But who wants a hot bowl of soup when it’s so hot outside? So, we can take a page from warmer climes and come up with some cold soup ideas that make a great accompaniment to sandwiches, light snack or salads — in short, summertime fare.

There are two best known cold soups: gazpacho and vichyssoise. While these are popular for a reason, you’re certainly not limited to these two types of soup. There are also many soups we normally serve warm that can be served cold with the addition of some herbs or fresh summer vegetables like cucumbers or zucchini.

Gazpacho is a Spanish style soup that is perfect for warm weather and popular in Western Mediterranean and Central American counties. At its base are tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, olive oil and vinegar. There are many variations. If this sounds a lot like salsa, you’d be right. But don’t break out a jar of salsa and start eating. There are some differences.

Most gazpachos are blended into a puree with the other ingredients added in a small dice to make it smooth and chunky at the same time. Most recipes call for fresh tomatoes, seeded and cored, but you can use canned diced tomatoes, which actually will hold up better because they’ve been cooked. Gazpacho is usually served as an appetizer, but it can stand on its own with some crusty bread for a light lunch. To up the protein count, try adding some cooked cocktail shrimp or leftover diced chicken.

Vichyssoise is essentially a potato and leek soup made with chicken stock. We think of it as French, but actually it was invented in a New York hotel restaurant. There is a French soup using potatoes and leeks that’s served hot and is very common in Europe. Again, there are many different recipes but basically, you make a hot soup of potatoes, onions, leeks and herbs cooked with chicken stock. The soup is then pureed into a smooth, thick liquid, cold milk or half and half is added, stirred in and then chilled before serving. I like this even hot in the summer, but trying it cold might be worth a try. A touch of fresh dill would go well with this. So would a sandwich.

But summer, cold soups don’t have to stop there. Many summer soups are made from cold fruit. The fruit is pureed with milk, sugar and other ingredients to make something a little less smooth and a bit spicier than a smoothie. These are often served as desserts, but can also be used a great appetizer.

Still more summer soups can be made from ingredients usually served warm, such as sweet potatoes, broccoli or squash. Smoothed in a blender or food processor and chilled with milk or cream, these more unusual soups can make a bit of a surprise at the next family picnic.

Make Your Own Salad Dressings

Salads are quick, easy, nutritious and best of all don’t heat up your kitchen. But drowning that salad full of fresh summer ingredients in bottled store-bought dressing is just a shame when there are so many other possibilities.

Making your own dressings means you know what’s in them. No artificial stuff. No chemicals. No preservatives. And making dressing just takes a minute or two. Leftovers store in the fridge for up to a week in a tightly sealed jar or other container.

One of the easiest, most versatile dressings is Honey Mustardgolden_honey_mustard_dressing. Not only is this good on salads, but it’s great with chicken breasts, vegetables, pork and fish. Try it on whatever you like instead of other condiments.

This one I stole from one of my favorite TV chefs, Alton Brown, host of Good Eats and Iron Chef America. One of the things I like about Alton is that he explains why we do things the way we do, why certain things happen when we cook food and why we can’t believe all those food myths we have heard through the years.

Honey Mustard Dressing

Whisk together in a bowl these ingredients:

  • 5 tablespoons of honey
  • 3 tablespoons of smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar

That’s it! Don’t have rice wine vinegar? Shame on you. In a pinch, you could substitute white wine or cider vinegar. Just remember it will affect the taste.

Sardines: A Canned Hidden Treasure

With increasing pollution of our seas and oceans, more chefs are now recommending we get to know the smaller fish. These little fish, like sardines and anchovies, have lots of flavor, are sustainable and conveniently canned, available to everyone. Also, they are inexpensive. Another reason they are being recommended is that these smaller fish are less likely to be contaminated with things that shouldn’t be there, like mercury. 

Many people have a first reaction that they don’t like them. But lots of people who say that have never really tried them. Certainly, they haven’t tried to make them tasty. Usually, these little canned fish have a lot more nutrition than the usual frozen fish fillets we see all the time in people’s freezers. Those are often not even a real fish fillet, but a conglomeration of fish pieces squeezed together and coated with a breading. While these are better than no fish at all in your diet, they lack many of the nutrients for which we eat fish in the first place.

Many of the more popular fish, like cod, red snapper, tuna and salmon, have been contaminated with mercury from centuries of burning coal. Overfishing has meant more of these species are farmed rather than wild, and farmed fish have less flavor.

Sardines are canned in many different ways. At the cannery, the fish are washed, their heads are removed, and the fish are cooked, either by deep-frying or by steam-cooking, after which they are dried. They are then packed in either olive, sunflower or soybean oil, water, or in a tomato, chili or mustard sauce. Canned sardines in supermarkets may actually be sprat (such as the “brisling sardine”) or round herrings. Sardines are typically tightly packed in a small can which is scored for easy opening, either with a pull tab (similar to how a beverage can is opened), or a key, attached to the side of the can. Thus, it has the virtues of being an easily portable, nonperishable, self-contained food. The close packing of sardines in the can led to their metaphorical use of describing any situation where people or objects are crowded together, for instance, in a bus or subway car.

Sardines come already cooked so you can eat them right out of the can, usually with crackers. You can make an appetizer out of them by stacking them on a cracker with a chunk of tomato and a slice of cheese. You can dredge them in flour and pan fry them with some spices. They can be chopped and added to a salad for some added protein.

Having canned sardines, or any other canned fish, in the pantry can give you many delicious dishes. They are always ready, nutritious, sustainable and inexpensive.