This week for Lunch Box, we’re making you order a sardine sandwich, and we’re making you admit you like it.
Sorry. Maybe that was a little presumptuous. Maybe you’ve already joined the ranks of the sardine lovers. Tinned fish are having a moment. There are blogs devoted to the best canned seafood, cookbooks, and, heck, some cities even have whole restaurants dedicated to the food group.
My household stocks tinned dorade, smoked herring, smoked trout, tuna, and salmon. Pro tip: most of it is from Trader Joe’s, which sells especially good smoked trout. It’s perfect on a loaded summer salad with tomatoes, peppers, and a mustardy dressing. You can also bring butter to room temperature, mash in smoked trout, parsley, and lemon juice, and spread it on good sourdough or baguette.
Point is: tiny fish from cans are overcoming the irrational stigma which afflicted them for years. Customers are finally learning to love sardines, anchovies, and all those little swimmers. Maybe you are part of the fan club. If so, here’s all you need to know: La Bodega has a really good sardine sandwich. Okay, you can hit the back button now.
If you’re hung up on that phrase, “sardine sandwich,” read on. If you’re wondering what such an oily fish is doing as the basis of a meal, or worrying that La Bodega serves a big ol’ slab of slimy fish on a bun and calls it a day, rest assured. Yes, it is true that La Bodega has two employees who are scared to try the sandwich. But chefs Skye McDaniel and Bryan Driver make the fish a base for a Mediterranean-style salad mixture. They add plenty of vinegar, capers, olives, and fistfuls of herbs, along with golden yellow roasted tomatoes.
In other words, think of it like tuna salad’s sunny southern cousin who relaxes on the beach and likes to drink rosé.
McDaniel says the sandwich came from her own home cooking. Tinned sardines are a quick, easy ingredient to make into a meal. “If I go into the kitchen and I’m like, ‘damn, I’m hungry, I don’t want to cook,’ there’s always tinned fish. I can always brighten it up with herbs from my garden and tomatoes, and it makes me happy. I’ve basically been eating that as a salad for a long time.”
There’s a salad version available at La Bodega, too (with fresh tomatoes and pickled shallots). A few weeks ago, I stopped by and opted for the sandwich version. With La Bodega’s fresh fries—I heard mine drop in the fryer after I placed my order—the meal can be a little bit on the salty, briny side. But this is not a complaint.
“You like fish or you don’t, and if you like fish, then we can hook you,” McDaniel says. “We have had people come in who are like, ‘ooh! Sardine sandwich!’ I love that they’re ordering it, because you won’t find this on another menu in Dallas. We have die-hard fans, people that come in twice a week for it. That’s been really cool to see.”
Recently I went to a fancy restaurant and spent more than $120 per person on dinner. All of the food was buttery, creamy, cheesy, and rich. One dish had a bit of paprika, but the rest was smooth sailing on a sea of dairy. A few days later, I thought about that meal and tried to remember distinct dishes and sauces, but they blurred together in a caloric haze. Then I thought about La Bodega’s sardine sandwich instead, and remembered the pop of capers and olives and the big bites of parsley like it was yesterday’s lunch.
Maybe this just means I’m an acid-head. Maybe my taste buds are warped. But if they are, you should come over to the dark side, too. We work evil magic with vinegar, salt, brine, and fistfuls of herbs. You can start by eating a sardine sandwich.