This post is not typical, but a list of ways to use canned fish other than tuna and salmon for a healthy, quick, meatless snack or meal! Canned fish may already be a pantry staple for you or a new adventure to try! Read on for some "fishy" facts you may find interesting for Lent and all year round!
Canned fish like sardines, herring, anchovies, tuna and salmon are already cooked and packed in water, oil, even tomato sauce!
Fried Sardines: Fry canned sardines in butter or oil on both sides. Carefully remove the upper half of the fish to eat. Remove the bones and spine and eat the other half as a snack, on a cracker or in a sandwich with avocado or your favorite sandwich veggies. Like canned salmon, the small bones are not harmful to eat and contain calcium.
Sardine or Anchovy Salad: Place a couple of sardines or anchovies on a green salad for healthy protein. Pureed anchovies can also be bought in a tube and used in authentic Caesar Salad Dressing or to add a meaty "umami" flavor to a meatless dish.
Canned Herring (grown-up sardines) often have bones removed and can be eaten right out of the can (tin, in Britain). Serve on crackers with cream cheese, sliced carrots, diced onions. Both canned herring and sardines are good on toasted bread and topped with any of the following: chopped olives, sliced peppers, chopped chili or green onions, a splash of vinegar or lemon juice and some oil or sauce from the can.
Pickled Herring is a popular appetizer or snack with Scandinavian and European folks who lived along the Northern waters where the fish was abundant.
Pizza Sardelle: Top a regular pizza with several rinsed canned sardines. Add a complimentary vegetable topping like red onions, olives or roasted peppers.
Sardine Pasta: A box of spaghetti, can of diced tomatoes or sauce and 2 4oz cans of sardines are the beginning of a new taste in pasta. Amp up the flavor with a splash of lemon juice, dried chili flakes, salt, garlic, a few capers or anchovies for a quick supper.
More tinned fish appetizer ideas can be found for a new trend called the Spring "Sea" cuterie Board on the website of dietitian Jenny Shea Rawn.
When we think of Lenten abstinence and meatless meals, fish may remind you of a favorite fish restaurant, Friday Fish Fry, Church fundraisers, or a tuna hot dish. A partner in mission recently suggested that Seasoned Franciscan feature meatless recipes with sardines. Some research led to some simple recipes and some "fishy" facts about canned fish and fish, in general.
- Fish are economically, socially, & ecologically important across the globe. They figure in many of the world's major religions as part of a religious fast from meat. More about fasts below!
- Sardines and Herring are not often found fresh in U.S. markets, but are available (near canned tuna and salmon) canned in oil, sometimes smoked and fileted.
- Sardines, mackerel, and herring all have slightly different tastes. Sardines and herring are more assertive, while mackerel is milder and buttery, but they can all be used in similar ways.
- Sardines, once plentiful in the Mediterranean off the coast of Sardinia are literally "small fish." When they grow larger, they are known as herring. They both have a mild, salty fish flavor. Some people find the smell to be strong for their taste.
- Herring (and sardines) contain more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon or tuna. Our bodies can't make these fats, so they must be sourced from foods such as fatty fish, grains, ground flax seed, walnuts, navy beans. Herring contains less mercury than other omega-3-rich fish like some tuna, king mackerel, swordfish and halibut.
- A kipper is herring that is split in half, salted, and usually smoked. Other fish and meat that are split in half are also considered "kippered". Kipper/Herring is popular in the UK and Europe.
- Atlantic herring is one of the most common fishes of the Gulf of Maine. Atlantic herring are schooling, filter-feeding fish eaten by a variety of marine mammals, sea birds and fish.
- Sardines and anchovies are often confused with each other. Anchovies are slightly smaller in size and have dark, reddish-grey flesh. Sardines are larger with white flesh. Anchovies are more often salt-cured, which gives them a more pungent, fishier flavor.
- Cod is another common fish from the North Atlantic. The Vikings were good at preserving cod with salt, smoke or lye (some Scandinavians enjoy lutefisk). Dried and salted cod was a form of "fish jerky" taken on long ocean passages. The route the Vikings took at the end of the first millennium — Greenland, Iceland, Newfoundland — matches up with the natural range of the Atlantic cod and led them to reach the North American continent. Even Culver's serves North Atlantic Cod and Walleye sandwiches that appeal to Midwesterners!
Fasting and Fish:
- Jesus died on a Friday. As early as the 1st century, people have written of fasting on Friday to recall Jesus' self-giving love.
- Even though fish is animal flesh, it has been acceptable for religious fasting purposes as a "meatless" protein. The reasons are varied and often bizarre, even "fishy." For example, "Fish are not warm-blooded and so don't bleed when slaughtered." "God did not condemn the waters after Adam's fall, so fish are a sign of God's mercy." "The Pope's brother was a fisherman." It's more likely that meat was a celebration food and more accessible to people of means. Fish was accessible to those less privileged. So, as promoted by the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl, during a fast we eat less, in general, and opt for more simple recipes in solidarity with people of simple means.
- Catholics, in days past, were are obliged to refrain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays in Lent and all during the year. It served as a witness, as part of Catholic identity and to strengthen the practices of penance and prayer.
- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops decided in 1966, to allow Catholics to eat meat on Fridays outside of Lent if they perform a different act of penance in its place. Was relying on the faithful to do this on their own unrealistic? What does "penance" mean to people of faith today?
- In 1962, a few years before the Vatican relaxed the rules, Lou Groen, an enterprising McDonald's franchise owner in a largely Catholic part of Cincinnati, found himself struggling to sell burgers on Fridays reported, Smithsonian Magazine. His solution? The Filet-O-Fish Sandwich.
- My favorite "fish" fact: In 2011, the Bishops' Conferences of England and Wales re-introduced the spiritual practice of meatless Fridays all throughout the year. In November of 2022, they again urged all Catholics to "refresh" their Friday meat abstinence, in part, as a way to recognize "the environmental impact of meat production" and the harm it is having on "God's creation." Read more in a 12/22/22 article in "Civil Eats", a newsletter about health, the environment, farming and food policy.
Fish Fry Traditions:
- Travel Wisconsin reports that German and Polish Catholic immigrants settled in Milwaukee in the 1860s and began the tradition of the Friday fish fry. During Lent, they didn't eat meat on Fridays, instead eating the fish they caught in Lake Michigan, especially perch and other panfish. Taverns picked up the tradition as did churches to raise money.
- The tradition of fish fry has deep roots in black communities. During the era of slavery. "The work schedule on the plantation would slow down by noon on Saturday, so enslaved people had the rest of that day to do what they wanted," writes food historian and "soul food" scholar Adrian E. Miller. "Those who finished work early could go fishing and bring back their catch to be fried that night; Plantation owners didn't mind because it was one less meal they had to provide." So the fish fry started as a Saturday-night thing on plantations. After Emancipation, the tradition became a business for some African-Americans, who brought inexpensive fish fries with them (along with BBQ and fried chicken) as they migrated from the South.
- As black families moved to cities, the fish fry tradition moved to Friday nights, possibly influenced by Catholics. "Fish markets would have sales those nights", Miller explains, "so it was cheaper to fund a Friday fish fry business or church fundraiser."
- He continues, "The fish fry is not unique to the black community: Any group living near a body of water or an ocean would fry or grill fish." You can learn a lot about culture through stories of food.
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