Encore des Sardines!


Encore des sardines! First came the sardine tartine blog, were I mentioned that King Henri IV loved sardines and introduced them to the court; then came the sardine paté at the 5c café performance; and on  Friday our friend Claire arrived from Brittany with a boxed set of a 6 cans Saint-Georges sardines “La Reserve” 2006.  Like wine, great sardines improve with time. Sardines millesimées, or vintage sardines, can be kept for up to 10 years.  Cans need to be turned over every 6 months so they are equally bathed in oil.  I decided not to wait 7 years to try them as I am too curious &  have never had “vintage” sardines before.
Claire and her family are true sardine aficionados so I knew it was going to be good. In fact it was a crescendo of goodness.  It started out when pulling up the tin ring and discovering the silvery little fishes perfectly aligned while resting in fragrant & subtle golden extra virgin olive oil. Then the smell trapped in the can quickly revealed a fresh ocean breeze.  So inviting!  My daughter-in-law prepared some spiced pita bread, and it proved to be a perfect support, though I grabbed my first vintage sardine with my fingers and put it whole in my mouth. The dainty fish flesh sent out 3D emotions to my neurons, and these were indeed the best sardines I ever had. I sure will not make sardines paté with these — too good, too beautiful to do anything to them but eat them whole.
A word about the can factory:
La Belle Iloise is a family affair. The company was created in 1932 by Georges Hilliet, thus the naming of the sardines: Saint Georges. His grandson Bernard Hilliet is still running the factory and his daughter is scheduled to continue the tradition and take over the operations in a few years. The factory is located in Quiberon. They operate their own retail stores and that is why they were able to survive. When mass distribution set  in, they decided to cut out the middle man and operate their own stores.  They have several of them where they sell their various products. I have tried only the sardines but according to Claire it is all good. All this info is available on their (french only) website.

We ate the sardines while watching the soccer game USA-Brasil. USA lost honorably but for me the sardines where definitely the highlight of the day. Joseph (my elder son) complemented the special sardines with a pleasant iced cold Lalande chardonnay from Gascony.  We ate 2 cans, I gave one to Joseph and will save the other 3 for a couple of years. Stay tuned — I’ll report. Meanwhile: vive les sardines!
DSCN3464saint george sardines

Sardine Tartine


Henri IV was born in Pau in 1553; he became the King of France and Navarre in 1589 until his assassination by Ravaillac in 1610. He  was  a very popular king, two of his nicknames were: “Good King Henri” & “the Green Gallant,” the latter referring to his constant womanizing. He had to change faith before being crowned, converting from Calvinism to Catholicism and is famous for having said: “Paris is worth a mass!”.  He wanted all French families to have a Poule au Pot every Sunday—that is, a stuffed chicken in the pot. Another food anecdote about Henri IV, reported in the Dictionnaire universel de cuisine: Encyclopédie illustrée d’hygiène alimentaire, is that he  loved sardines and made them popular at the court of France.

Today there is still a brand of sardines named after him, though I don’t now how good they are as I have never tried them—if you have, please let me know! I usually buy the Brisling in Spring Water because I rather do the seasoning myself with good pungent olive oil. If you read my blog, or know me, you already know that I don’t like, nor buy, canned food — sardines (along with tuna fish, and a couple of tomato cans a year) are the exception that confirms the rule.

The tightly packed sardines in their little tin can are a nutritional gem. Sardines have not only the highest content of  Coenzyme Q10 but also tryptophan, Omega-3, calcium, phospohorus, vitamin B12, B3, D, & proteins. This simple food  makes for a very quick and healthy lunch.

1 can of sardines
1/4 finely chopped onion
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
2 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
Lots of fresh ground pepper
Salted pastured butter

Mix is all up and serve on buttered toasts. An important note: I butter the toast after they have been toasted, the secret is to have a thin layer of good fresh butter in between the sardine mix and the bread; trust me, that is what makes this little toast exquisite. Serve with Nicole’s simple salad, and if you haven’t yet seen the video, here it is: