If the Stinson sardine plant in Prospect Harbor closes its doors this week, it will be the sad end of a once-thriving Maine industry.
Opening in the 1870s, the business reached its peak in the early 1950s, when it employed thousands of workers in plants up and down the coast. Stacks of those small flat cans were on every pantry shelf in New England, representing meal insurance against a day when not much else was in the larder.
The little fish were eaten on soda crackers as a snack, with tomato and iceberg lettuce at lunchtime, and heated, placed atop toast and drizzled with lemon butter for supper.
Sardines are still a pantry staple, and with just a few more ingredients on hand, you can whip up these two supper dishes.
SARDINE PASTA WITH FRESH PARSLEY
Always be sure to buy sardines packed in oil.
3 tablespoons drained oil from 2 (33/4-ounce) cans small sardines
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound thin-strand pasta such as linguine or spaghetti
Whole sardines from cans (above)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
In a large skillet, heat sardine oil and olive oil. Add garlic and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in pepper flakes. Add wine, bring to a boil, and cook uncovered until slightly reduced, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in parsley and butter, swirling until it melts.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook pasta until al dente, about 10 minutes. Scoop out and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain pasta into a colander.
In a shallow bowl, toss about two-thirds of the sauce with the hot pasta, adding enough of the reserved cooking water to moisten. Arrange sardines over pasta, and spoon remaining sauce over the top.
At the table, pass salt and pepper for a final seasoning, along with lemon wedges and grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.
SARDINE KEDGEREE WITH FRESH HERBS
Kedgeree, which was originally an East Indian dish that was brought to the New England shores by seamen in the 18th century, is classically made with cooked flaked fish, but canned sardines are an excellent substitute.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons drained oil from 2 (3¾-ounce) cans sardines
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions, plus 2 tablespoons
3 cups cooked white rice
3/4 cup cream, any type (half-and-half, light or heavy)
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
Sardines from cans above
4 hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
In a large skillet with a lid or a saucepan, melt oil and butter. Add scallions and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the rice, cream, salt and pepper, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook over very low heat just until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes.
Fold in the sardines and chopped eggs and cook for another 2 minutes until heated through. Stir in parsley and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons scallions and serve with lemon wedges.
Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Dishing Up Maine” (Storey Publishing 2006) and “The New England Clam Shack Cookbook” (Storey 2008). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula.