Food, Food Artisans

Ari’s Holiday Gift Suggestions pt. 6


Stay tuned as we post selections from Ari’s list in the coming weeks!

Ortiz Sardines and Mackerel from Spain

Prepared and packed by the Ortiz family on Spain’s north Cantabrian coast, these little jarred fish are pretty exceptional. Ortiz have been Spain’s premier producer of tinned and jarred tuna, anchovies and other small fish for over a century, and is currently being run by the fifth generation of the family. Their products are recognized by pretty much everyone who pays attention to these sorts of things among THE best anywhere!

For some reason that I haven’t yet ascertained, these special sardines fell out of the Ortiz’ production for many decades. Last year, the family restarted the
sardine packing. Aside from
looking really beautiful, the
sardines taste terrific. They’re
produced according to an old
French recipe that dates to 1824—the earliest years of preserving fish in jars or tins. As with their tuna and anchovies, the Ortiz family are very finicky about the fish they select. They use only true pilchards, the most prized of the many species of small fish that are canned around the world as “sardines.” They cook and pack only fresh sardines, hence production is seasonal—they have only about three months to pack sardines for the year.

The freshly landed fish are taken from the dock directly to the plant in the village. There they’re cleaned, fried in extra virgin olive oil then left in a to stand for a few hours in order to drain the naturally occurring water that they still have in them. (By contrast, most middle-of-the-pack commercial canneries—though nothing we carry—use frozen fish) This changes the texture and flavor significantly and they cook them with steam once they are put in the tins; then they add the oil, tomato or other sauces. All the water that was inside the sardines remains in the tin, reducing quality and the eating enjoyment.) The Ortiz family prepares them a la ancien. They cook skin and bones still on—you get the traditional soft, tender but meaty texture and also all the calcium and Omega 3s as well. Finally they’re hand packed with extra virgin olive oil in glass jars.

I put them on salads with great frequency. I eat them on pasta. Try ‘em with either a fennel scented tomato sauce, or equally excellent, with a few spoonfuls of olive or caper paste and some grated breadcrumbs over top. They’re fantastic on the traditional insalata pantesca—the traditional salad of the caper growing island of Pantelleria off the coast of Sicily. Cooked potatoes, cherry tomatoes, a bit of slivered red onion, a handful of black olives, and of course, plenty of capers. Toss the lot with a bit of your favorite wine vinegar (I love the Txakoli vinegar that hails from the Basque Country, not far up the road from the Ortiz factories), a touch of sea salt, a little crumbled dried oregano and plenty of extra virgin olive oil and let stand for about half an hour so the flavors come to together. Lay the sardines over top and serve.

Mackerel-fc11Mackerel is far less known in the US but it’s equally delicious. Texturally it’s more like tuna I suppose than sardines, but it’s more full-flavored than tuna. And you can do anything with it that I’ve already listed for the sardines. I’ve watched fish lovers ooh and aah over these two Spanish treats too many times to count. In fact, just writing about them is making want to go open a jar right now!