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Hey Matt:

There has been a question bugging me since I worked at the O.B. Pier bait shop years ago. Is there a breed of fish called a sardine, or are they called that only after they are prepared? Any help?

— GA from SD

This isn’t a can of sardines, it’s a can of worms.

This isn’t a can of sardines, it’s a can of worms. Wasn’t there something besides sardines to think about when you worked at the bait shop? Anyway, there definitely is a kind of live, swimming-around fish called a sardine. Better yet, there are many kinds of live, swimming-around fish called sardines. But there are things that we don’t call sardines but are found in cans labeled “sardines.”

Science guys classify what ordinary folk call sardines into a family called Clupeidae, with brothers and sisters: herrings, sprat, menhaden, and shad. The next step down the classification chart is a fish’s genus, separating the Clupeidae into smaller groups based on physical characteristics and habitat. About 17 genera of fish called sardines. Next step, with very specific characteristics, is the fish’s species. Dozens and dozens of “sardine” species from warm, cold, fresh, brackish, or marine waters around the world: Atlantic sardine, India-oil sardine, perforated-scale sardine, Reader sardine — really. From St. Lucia. Not kidding. So there’s your free-range sardines.

Sardines with their heads chopped off are a slightly different matter. The FDA permits a can labeled “sardines” to actually be a can of fish of the genera that include sprats, brislings, and small herrings, all of them being so closely related. So there’s your argument for a sardine not being a sardine until it’s put in a can. There are actually two internet sources that make your argument, too, one a supposed high-toned chef and the other some guy who writes for the Boston Globe as “Dr. Knowledge.” Both claim sardines aren’t sardines until they’re in a can. Sure, occasionally a herring is a herring until it’s put in a can labeled “sardines,” but that’s the exception. Worldwide, Sardina pilchardus is considered the “true” sardine; that’s a fish the Brits call a pilchard, we call a sardine. Following United Nations guidelines, any fish sold as a sardine that is not a pilchard-type has to bear a clarification of exactly what species of sardine it is. Of course, this is much ado about a foodstuff nobody likes anyway.

Hey Matt:

Here’s one that will put you into behavioral research textbooks. Are you up to the challenge? It is pretty well established that REM sleep is the period of our sleeping when we dream. And when we dream, we usually dream of places and objects that we see in our daily life. Here is the question (the answer you and your helpers provide will likely appear in psychology and anatomy/physiology textbooks, so do your best research)...do people who have been blind since birth report having dreams? If so, do they dream of images, or perhaps only sounds? There are at least three psychologists or psych. students waiting for your reply. Thanks for doing the “heavy lifting” on this research issue.

— Michael, via email

Heavy lifting? Hah! Lightweight stuff, mostly because we’ve already answered this. No textbooks, no scientific papers, no extended research. We just asked a blind person. Your education environment has hijacked your logic; you’ve made the easy unnecessarily complicated. Just ask a blind person. If you’d done as we did, you’d learn that the blind dream exactly the way we do, experiencing their dreaming world in the same way they experience their waking world: sound, touch, smell, hearing. Our dreaming blind person had actually dreamed of driving a car, so the dreams of the blind are just as goofy as ours sometimes are.

Matthew Alice:

What does the M in M-16 rifle stand for?


Remember we’re dealing here with the U.S. military, a no-frills, no-imagination outfit that runs on codes and letters and numbers and dashes and slashes and dots. If you were hoping for something romantic or even mean and nasty, you’re out of luck. The M in M-16 stands for “Model.” Model 16 semi-auto rifle. According to the Springfield (MA) Armory National Park, the largest repository of historical U.S. military weapons in the world, the M designation for rifles goes back to before 1800. In 1946 the Armorlite company designed what they called the AR-15 rifle. The U.S. tried it out in the Air Force and Army and eventually bought the design from Armorlite. They shifted the name from AR-15 to the military standard, and the M-16 began replacing older models in soldiers’ hands.

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BenB Feb. 10, 2012 @ 11:46 a.m.

Nice info on the sardines. But the only question we have is, what to eat with them!

Ben, Wild Planet Foods Responsible Sustainability and Fishing Methods http://www.wildplanetfoods.com


Matthew_Alice Feb. 10, 2012 @ 4:01 p.m.

Pretty easy question, sez Grandma Alice. Peruse any sardine recipe from Spain or Portugal, considered the world center of spectacular sardine cuisine. Spain's casual snack equivalent to the taco might be the grilled fresh(head-on) sardine, bought from your fishmonger. Hold them in sea water until they're cooked. Gut them, put them in a fish grilling basket (or stab them on waterlogged bamboo skewers stuck in the sand) and grill 2-3 minutes a side over a lively flame. (Apparently the eyes go cloudy when they're done.) Season with crunchy salt (kosher or sea) and a squeeze of lemon j. Eat 'em as is, on a water cracker, or a slice of bread with your fave cold brew. In the other direction, fry fresh, cleaned and beheaded, flour-dredged sardines in a pan of hot olive oil. Set them asisde when slightly crispy. In the pan, saute parsley (Italian,maybe), minced onions and garlic for five minutes or so. Add a whole bunch of chopped fresh tomatoes and cook for another five or ten. Put the sardines back in the pan, cook another five, and serve on/with thick slices of crunchy bread, again with your favorite beer. Beer and good bread seem to be the most common go-withs, but Spaniards have been at this for centuries, since fresh sardines are so plentiful in their waters. They've probably tried every combo, so go hunting for more saucy sardine recipes. (Love, Grandma Alice)


David Dodd Feb. 10, 2012 @ 4:37 p.m.

They love them here in Mexico as well. Saltine crackers seems to be the carrier of choice. Head-on and not gutted, canned in a tomato sauce of some sort. I tried them and don't care for them, but that's just me.


Matthew_Alice Feb. 12, 2012 @ 1:41 p.m.

Yeah, refried, I think the US is missing a good thing with sardines. I blame it on some mindless extension of the US mantra "hold the anchovies." People who've never even tasted anchovies say "hold the anchovies." We'll flock to a grunion run, catch 'em, but never eat them, which is probably the point of catching them in the first place. Americans and small silver fish have an unnecessary disconnect, I think. But we're so far removed from the need to depend on the land and sea around us for food, we've gotten unnecessarily picky. Eat cactus fruit; it's delish!


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