Give Canned Sardines An Extra Boost Of Umami With One Simple Addition

canned sardines in tins on a white wooden table
canned sardines in tins on a white wooden table - Jiri Hera/Shutterstock

If canned meat sounds less than appetizing, a tender, salty, and savory canned sardine will have you rethinking your opinion. Other than acting as a euphemism for full airplanes, canned sardines are the cream of the crop of canned fish. They're meatier and milder than anchovies and often described as a saltier, slightly fishier canned tuna knock-off. They're substantial enough to eat whole, but they're also tender enough to break down into a sauce. Plus, there are countless ways to elevate canned sardines by pairing them with complementary flavors.

While you might think that sardines need a spicy or smokey complement to balance their intensity, mushrooms are one addition that can supply a complementary boost of umami to canned sardines. Encompassing a wide range of savory flavors, umami isn't as specific a taste as sweet or salty. Glutamate is the most well-known compound related to umami flavor, but two other compounds further distinguish its many notes: inosinate and guanylate. Fish contain high levels of inosinate, while mushrooms contain high levels of guanylate. Therefore, the marriage of sardines and mushrooms provides a spectrum of umami richness.

Mushrooms are a single ingredient, but there are a wealth of different types, each with unique textures and flavors to pair with sardines. Furthermore, you can use fresh or dried mushrooms, opening up even more possibilities for ways to incorporate the two.

Read more: 15 Different Ways To Cook Fish

How To Incorporate Sardines And Mushrooms Into Dishes

plates of raw mushrooms and canned sardines
plates of raw mushrooms and canned sardines - margouillat photo/Shutterstock

Perhaps the first factor to consider when adding mushrooms to a sardine dish is the cuisine you have in mind. For Mediterranean flavors, porcini, portabellas, trumpet, and button mushrooms are ideal, while shiitake, oyster, and wood ear mushrooms are popular Asian ingredients. Whichever mushrooms you choose, they'll all offer an earthy meaty complement to the fishy, salty sardine.

The simplest way to incorporate mushrooms and sardines is as toppings on a pizza. You could also add the two to a pasta dish, mashing the meaty sardines into a tomato sauce for spaghetti and topping the dish with garlic-sauteed porcini mushrooms and sliced olives for a twist on classic pasta puttanesca. Blend sardines with cream, spinach, and cream cheese for a rich, savory stuffing for roasted portobello mushrooms that you can top with buttery breadcrumbs. You could use dried mushrooms to create an earthy compound butter that you can use to stir-fry lightly breaded sardines for a sophisticated appetizer to enjoy over a peppery crostini.

For an Asian twist, you can add shiitake mushrooms and sardines to a wok with soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, garlic, and ginger to serve over rice with a drizzle of chili crisp and a sprinkling of fresh scallions. You could also make a canned sardine pate to spread into an unconventional banh mi sandwich, swapping marinated pork or chicken for sweet soy-marinated oyster mushrooms.

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