Sardines have been rediscovered in the West. Years ago, our Victorian ancestors considered them haute cuisine, and served them at dinner parties in fancy crystal and silver sardine servers. More recently, they have gained favor because they are filled with protein, minerals, vitamins, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Yet they remain inexpensive, and can be conveniently stored in cans on the shelf next to cans of tuna fish. They are already cooked, and have a mild, pleasant flavor.
My Norwegian grandfather used to eat sardines, but I never ate them until I worked in Ghana and learned to favor them accompanied by a ball of kenkey and some fiery shito, or in this simple and satisfying stew. My grandfather ate the tiny sardines in oil in the flat tin box that you open with a key. Those can be used, but more common are the larger sardines that are canned with chili sauce or tomato sauce. This recipe features those marketed by Goya in 15-ounce cans or the smaller 3.5-ounce “tinapa” size. When I first went to Ghana my future sister-in-law always wrote “tinapa” on our shopping list and I thought that was a Ghanaian type of fish.
Sardine stew can be cooked in a flash after a busy day or when company arrives unexpectedly. It takes about twenty minutes, and goes well with plain boiled rice, so for a quick meal, put 2 cups of long-grain rice on to cook in an electric rice cooker before beginning the stew.
If serving with rice, ladle a generous spoonful of rice onto a plate and cover with a spoonful of stew. If another vegetable is desired, cook up some fresh or frozen veggies in the microwave, or sauté some cabbage or other greens while the stew simmers. My family members automatically spoon some Shito onto the side of the plate alongside the stew (or use any hot sauce). Top the meal off with seasonal fresh fruit.
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