Kitchen & Pantry

Turning a humble can of sardines into an epicurean delight

We usually do our weekly food shopping before the weekend. You know, in preparation for the arrival of the girls. This week, however, I was wary about buying meat. Typhoon “Quiel” was forecast to hit the country hard today and I wasn’t going to worry all over again about how long the meat in the freezer would last. When power went out last Monday at the height of typhoon “Pedring”, that was a major (major only; not major major) concern. Fortunately, the blackout lasted for 14 hours (yes, that was fortunate because in other areas, the power outage lasted through the following day) which wasn’t long enough to thaw out the freezer.

To make a long and winding story short, we did no food shopping. We’d get by with what was in the freezer and the few canned goods on the kitchen shelves.

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Speedy left at noon, just after I woke up, to pick up the girls whose classes ended at 2.30. I was too lethargic to prepare a proper meal. Besides, I wanted to get some work done just in case power went out again. Still, I had to eat. I thought about taking out something from the freezer, but decided I should reserve all that for when the girls arrived. I checked the kitchen shelves and saw a can of sardines in Spanish oil.

More than twenty years ago, if I wanted canned sardines for a meal or a snack, I would have sautéed the contents of the can with garlic and onions, breaking up the soft flesh of the fish in the pan. That was before I was married. During the early years of our marriage when Speedy and I were living with his family, I learned a better sautéed canned sardines technique from his sister, Ava — sauté the sardines in butter and add a splash of kalamansi or lemon juice and the gray-brown mush tastes better.

These days, I prefer not to break up the fish into a mush. I heat up the fish with a little butter then add sliced onions and minced garlic during the last 30 seconds (with no stirring so as not to break up the fish) so that the onion slices are still lightly crisp when the sardines are served. That was how I did it earlier today.

First, I melted some butter in a non-stick pan and added two pan de sal that I had split into halves. When the bread had browned and soaked up most of the butter, I sprinkled them with kosher salt and parsley.

In the remaining butter, I cooked an egg, sunny side up, which I also sprinkled with kosher salt and parsley.

Finally, I added a little more butter to the pan and dumped the contents of the can. After a minute, I added minced garlic and sliced red onion, and squeezed a quarter of a lemon over everything.

And I was happy. And content. I didn’t feel that I was eating a pitiable meal. In fact, I felt like I was eating a gourmet meal although the total cost of everything on that plate would be less than 50 pesos (roughly, a dollar). Imagine that.

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