French Sardines


French Sardines -

Called also celerans, celans, royans, cradeaux and galices on various parts of the French coast, are the young of the pilchard, a fish nearly allied to the herring, common in the Mediterranean and along part of the West coast of Europe.

The fishing season varies in different sections. In the Mediterranean, it extends over the entire year. On the shores of Brittany, the center of the French industry, it is confined chiefly to the months of September and October. The fish frequent the Brittany waters throughout the entire summer - remaining until late in the fall - but when they first arrive they are thin and poor and unsuitable for canning. As the season advances they improve in quality and are fat and in good condition from September on. Those caught earlier are generally salted or consumed fresh.

To attract the little fish to the vicinity of the nets, large quantities of bait are scattered on the water - that chiefly used being the salted eggs of cod, haddock, mackerel, etc., mixed ordinarily with peanut meal or flour to decrease the expense. As many as a hundred thousand have been taken in a single net.

The French fisherman's great aim is to land the catch as speedily as possible to insure their absolute freshness - and as a consequence they are often at the canneries within one or two hours after capture. Should the failure, or unfavorable direction, of the wind threaten to delay the arrival of the sailing boats and hence impair the quality of the fish, the crew row back to port.

As soon as the fish reach the factories, their heads and viscera are removed and the dressed bodies are sorted by size into large tubs of strong brine, where they remain for about an hour. They are next placed in small wicker baskets and washed in either fresh or salt water for a few seconds, to remove loose scales, dirt and undissolved salt. Then comes the drying - preferably in the open.

For open-air drying, the fish are arranged by hand, one by one, in wire baskets or trays, each holding about one hundred and fifty of medium size, placed on wooden frames or racks. The distinctive feature of the trays is their division into about seven V-shaped crosswise compartments, in which the fish are placed in regular rows with their tails upward, so as to promote the escape of water from the abdominal cavity. They remain thus for a variable time, depending on their size, the state of the atmosphere, etc., the usual period in favorable weather being one hour.

In damp, foggy or rainy weather, they are dried indoors by artificial heat, less time being then required.

After drying, they are taken in the same wire baskets to the cooking room and immersed in boiling oil, in open vats of various sizes and construction. As much of the oil is taken up in cooking, the vats require close attention and frequent replenishing.

The oil immersion usually lasts about two minutes, but varies with the size of the fish.

The baskets are next removed to a table or platform with an inclined metal top, where the surplus oil is allowed to drain off, and are then taken to the packing room, where they are packed in the tin cans so well known to the consumer.

After the cans are sealed, they are immersed in boiling water for several hours, the object being to complete the cooking of the fish and soften the bones, in addition to the customary canning purpose of sterilization.

The kind and quality of oil used depend upon the commercial grade of the packing. For the finest qualities, native olive oil, from fairly good to the very best, is employed, either plain or blended with or into various sauces, except for a limited quantity prepared in melted butter for special French trade. The methods of putting up the lesser grades vary in different canneries. In some, arachide or peanut oil is used in both cooking and canning; in others, the cooking may be done in peanut oil and the cans filled with olive oil - or vice versa. It is stated that cottonseed oil is largely used in some establishments for the cheapest grades. In many cases, the flavor is enhanced by adding special ingredients to the oil or by packing in various sauces - in Tomato sauce, Bordelaise, Bouillon, etc. - cut truffles and pickles, and spices and herbs such as cloves, laurel leaves, thyme, fresh tarragon leaves, etc., being frequently added.

Some of the finer qualities are canned without bones, the extraction being usually made after semi-cooking so as to avoid tearing the flesh. Boneless sardines are further marked by the fact that they lose their tails in the operation.

In the south of France, part of the product is put up in red wine, being there known as sardines anchoisées or "Anchovied sardines."

The French sardine is a handsome little fish, and its beauty is not entirely lost in canning. In the water, the back is of a greenish color, but out of it the upper parts are rich dark-bluish, contrasting strongly with the silver and white of the sides and abdomen. The scales are very easily detached, but their loss does not detract seriously from the appearance of the fish, as the skin is thick and has a uniformly brilliant silvery color.

French sardines, as a rule, improve with age after packing, and are at their best at from four to six years in the can. Many particular establishments will not sell stock less than a year old, as that time is considered necessary for the proper blending of the fish, oil, flavoring, etc.


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