accessAtlanta

City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Sardines or liverwurst?

Crispbread with brisling sardines, onions and mustard

Crispbread with brisling sardines, onions and mustard

Such was the choice of sandwiches when I was a very small kid. Liverwurst with onions and mustard on rye bread or sardines with onions and mustard on rye bread. These were the specialties of the place I grew up, which was called “Hell.”

Actually, I did love both when I was very small and didn’t know better. But once I discovered peanut butter and jelly or bologna and cheese, that was that. After Welch’s grape jelly and Kraft Singles passed my lips, I refused to touch any of the scary, stinky Old World foods my mother preferred. (I won’t even get into creamed herring, which seemed an abomination on too many levels to count.)

My mother went from buying whole tubes of liverwurst to just a few slices from the deli counter, to none at all. Once in a while, she’d purchase just enough for her own sandwich, or maybe a tin of sardines to eat with Triscuits and mustard.

I rediscovered the latter combination at the New York restaurant, Prune, where it’s been a kitschy menu staple for years. You know what? Delicious. Chef Gabrielle Hamilton wisely leaves off the raw onion my mom always liked with sardines because she wants her guests to have some semblance of good breath for the remainder of their meals.

Not me. Once every few months now I’ll buy a tin of good-quality sardines (I like the little brisling variety) and eat them with Scandinavian crispbread, sweet onions and mustard. It’s a pretty cheap meal that packs an omega-3 wallop. For me, this meal unlocks a very old taste memory, a feeling of anticipation when that pungent, oily sandwich was placed before me.

As far as liverwurst goes, I like encountering it in a restaurant every now and again, but I’m not inviting it home.

- By John Kessler for the Food & More blog

46 comments Add your comment

carla roqs

August 30th, 2011
10:58 am

i like liverwurst every once in a while on whole or cracked wheat bread with mayo and a couple of slices of ripe tomato. yummy

Kay Stephenson

August 30th, 2011
11:02 am

What a touching memory of your mother. Hope she knows that you have circled back around to appreciate the food she introduced you to.

BBQgeek

August 30th, 2011
11:15 am

Liverwurst rules. Bought a pound on Sunday and will have it every day this week for lunch. Patak liverwurst is especially good and is made here in Powder Springs. It has a mousse-like texture that is amazing. I don’t go for the onions. Just good bread, mustard, and liverwurst. It’s a real man’s meal.

carla roqs

August 30th, 2011
11:27 am

and what kay said!

m. johnson

August 30th, 2011
11:30 am

I share a tin of sardines with my dog every Saturday. Omega-3, straight from the can. Maybe this weekend I’ll stop and add some mustard and bread to my half.

Rodney

August 30th, 2011
11:47 am

I don’t dig on the ‘wurst, but I LURVE sardines … haven’t had any in a while, so thanks for reminding me to pick some up :)

Goode Girl

August 30th, 2011
12:55 pm

Has anyone tried anchovies wrapped around capers on saltine crackers?

Lorenzo

August 30th, 2011
1:22 pm

Patak’s smoked liverwurst is amazing. Invite it home.

Kar

August 30th, 2011
2:17 pm

Well, at least your mother didn’t combine them. Although I bet somewhere there’s a thrifty greek/italian/northern italian/southern german/alsace grandmother who would’ve thrown them both into a cassoulet of some sort.

Kirk

August 30th, 2011
2:33 pm

I grew up with the same tastes in our house. I never buy any of them anymore except for creamed herring. I consider it a guilty pleasure to be eaten alone. No one else could possibly understand. I like whitefish salad too!

neil

August 30th, 2011
2:50 pm

Mom would make for me a sandwich of skinless and boneless sardines with cream cheese on rye. Took these sandwiches to day camp and had with a bowl of tomato soup. Never thought of it as a guilty pleasure but now reading this gives me a Jones to have tonight

Bhorsoft

August 30th, 2011
3:04 pm

Never a sardine fan, but my dad was a fan of pickled herring. I used to sample it when he did. It was a treat for him, but I haven’t had it since I left home. I love liverwurst on whole wheat or other sturdy bread with some paper thin sliced sweet onions (preferably Vidalia) and some Miracle Whip. It’s one of my infrequent guilty pleasures no one else I know understands.

Chris

August 30th, 2011
3:19 pm

Why choose? Have both!

Annie

August 30th, 2011
3:30 pm

My mom is a great cook but sushi and tofu are still too exotic for her. I hadn’t tried sardines ever until Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode about his diet, where he had an awesome recipe for a brisling-avocado sandwich (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/sherried-sardine-toast-recipe/index.html). I am a convert. Now I have another brisling sandwich to try! Thanks!

Ann

August 30th, 2011
3:39 pm

I couldn’t help but smile when I read your column. When I was a kid my mother and my grandmother would give me sardines. I haven’t had any in years, but think I’ll have some tonight.

Huffster

August 30th, 2011
3:55 pm

John, I’m smiling too! Same thing happened to me as child/adult. Two nights in a row this week I ate a can of sardines standing up, no bread or anything to interfere with the taste and texture! Thanks for reminding me about the name brisling for the smaller ones. One can said “two rows to a can” which was my only clue. I REALLY don’t care for the larger ones. Now, I’m thinking of going for the liverwurst and swiss on rye with mustard and mayo next. Thanks, readers, for the Patak’s liverwurst idea…

Atlanta Native

August 30th, 2011
4:02 pm

Try Moroccan sardines. They “Alshark” in English and the rest is in Arab script. I get them at Mediterranean Bakery on Chamblee Tucker. Everyone who has tried them has loved them. They are larger than the brisling ones, and better, and I love the brisling ones.

Alternative route

August 30th, 2011
4:08 pm

My favorite was always BRAUNSCHWEIGER with lettuce, tomato, and mayonaise (Best Foods/Hellman’s). If sardines happened they were the ones in tomato sauce on bread with just butter. Never any onions as nobody in the house like them enough.

Now I happily forego all of these and let the animals just live their lives in peace. Vegetarianism is a much happier direction for food. Knowing that the liver is the filter for all the toxins in an animal and knowing what gets dumped into the ocean I am sure I made the better choice.

Rodney

August 30th, 2011
4:15 pm

And we have our first visit today from the smug vegan/veggie bunch …

Bugs

August 30th, 2011
4:18 pm

My dad turned me on to both sardines and liverwurst, along with smoked oysters when I was around 13 or so. When my son got to about that same age, I had the pleasure of doing the same for him! I sure wish his grandpa had still been around to enjoy them with us.

John

August 30th, 2011
4:22 pm

Let me get this straight. You won’t eat this stuff at home, but the instant a trendy restaurant serves it you’re all about it?

JimmyZ

August 30th, 2011
4:51 pm

Never been a sardine fan, but I could live on liverwurst….and love grilled liver n onions. Thanks to my dad for both of these! Nobody else in my house will touch either, so I always know something I can buy at Kroger that the raging horde of teenagers won’t snarf up!
Now that I’ve heard about Patak’s smoked ‘wurst, I’ll have to find some. Suggestions?

Bette

August 30th, 2011
4:53 pm

I just had a wurst sandwich on wheat at my mother’s house last week it was the best! With chips and a dill pickle. I eat my sardines with grits if I don’t have any eggs around. I need to make a stop after work…..

Kar

August 30th, 2011
4:55 pm

No John, it’s snobby when you won’t eat liverwust but you’ll scrape the plate if it’s served as an $18/oz pate or $25/oz organic country terrine from Provance.

Jane Cunningham

August 30th, 2011
5:15 pm

ew. I;d never go anywhere near a place called Prune.

JOJO

August 30th, 2011
5:20 pm

I actually like Sardines, something about that salt

Art

August 30th, 2011
5:27 pm

My grandfather loved sardines on Saltine crackers… We would go fishing together and that would always be his snack of choice. I also remember he loved to drink milk with that snack. I, on the other hand, would opt for Underwood deviled ham on Saltine’s or Vienna sausages in one of those pull-top containers with yellow mustard for dipping. I haven’t eaten either in years but your posting brought back those textures and smells and… memories of my grandfather…

Atlanta Native

August 30th, 2011
5:44 pm

I just ate sardines with onions on top for the first time. Thank you John!

Rodney

August 30th, 2011
5:54 pm

@Art – my Dad’s snack of choice is the Vienna sausage on saltines … he keeps a can in his truck “just in case” … like he’ll be stuck out in the woods long enough for starvation to kick in!

@JimmyZ – your reasoning for the sardines (keeping others out!) is exactly why my Dad eats pickled pigs feet. He KNOWS nobody will eat them. At least not pickled and cold in the jar from the fridge.

Bob

August 30th, 2011
6:02 pm

I just hate smug vegetarians. They make me just want to slap their pale faces.
Great article. Brought back some good memories and got me hankering for some sardines.

Sue

August 30th, 2011
6:05 pm

ALL of the above – EW!

Bonannie

August 30th, 2011
6:14 pm

Patak’s rules – heading there tomorrow for Wurst! Thanks John!

Rick the Gourmand

August 30th, 2011
6:16 pm

I’m a Southern boy, raised on peanut butter ‘n’ jelly, white bread, Hellman’s, etc etc. But when I was in the Army and stationed north of the Mason-Dixon Line in Baltimore, I discovered (gasp!) pickled herring in sour cream! And liverwurst! And sardines! Oy! Such a treat we NEVER had in the South! Today, these things would be my ‘luncheon of choice’ if it weren’t for the heavy duty, industrial strength fat content. But on occasion I will sneak this stuff into the house (to hide it from my Yankee wife) and chow down in guilty pleasure! Nu, what’s NOT to like here??

quake

August 30th, 2011
6:21 pm

Wow, talk about memories. My dad would mix a tin of sardines with cream cheese, make a spread out
of it, and onto the bagel or bread or cracker of choice it went. I definitely have to do that again, and soon. Who knew sardines (or liverwurst tho it was never my thing) would bring up so many memories. Nice comments too!

Foodgeek

August 30th, 2011
6:45 pm

Love Patak’s liverwurst, and the smoked variety is extra-flavorful, so I use it sparingly. You needn’t worry about the fat content of either of these, since they are easy to eat in small servings and very satisfying that way. My mom loved braunschweiger, and I once brought home a malnourished kitten who was on the verge of starvation. We fed it braunschweiger until it was healthy again, and that was one of the luckiest cats who ever lived.

I also love pickled herring, creamed herring and lox, and I think onions are a good complement, but I like the onions to be slightly pickled. I never got a taste for chopped chicken livers served deli-style, but I do have a great recipe for “faux-gras,” made from chicken livers so that it will taste like foie gras, and it’s absolutely perfect. Getting some serious cravings now.

ATLBadger

August 30th, 2011
6:54 pm

Patak is fantastic. Growing up in Milwaukee, I took quality old world sausages for granted until I moved down here. Twas a happy day when I discovered Patak…

Billie

August 30th, 2011
7:42 pm

Another great umami snack: herring pate (in a tube, DeKalb FM) on whole grain pumpernickel with stone-ground mustard and mandarin-sliced cucumber. . . .

Billie

August 30th, 2011
7:43 pm

Oops, make that “mandolin-sliced” — though a little mandarin orange mightn’t go far amiss!

Kirk

August 30th, 2011
8:13 pm

I am now literally drooling. Make it stop.

Darin

August 30th, 2011
9:01 pm

Toasted pumpernickel bread, thin spread of cream cheese, Seasons brand sardines packed in olive oil, a little dollop of Dijon mustard. My favorite snack to make at home when I feel like making food I don’t have to share with anyone (no one else would eat it).

John Kessler

August 30th, 2011
9:31 pm

I was going to ask if the Mandarins sliced the cucumbers of their own volition…

John Kessler

August 30th, 2011
9:31 pm

Aww…love the kitten story…

carla roqs

August 31st, 2011
8:40 am

you guys are killing me with the cream cheese on rye or pumpernickel, cream cheese makes everything taste like Christmas!! might have to try that, even tho sardines are not a fave- that skinless, boneless variety may be tempting atop some cream cheese…

ane

August 31st, 2011
9:12 am

Gee, I too grew up on sardine sandwiches though we used vinigar on the sardines and onions instead of mustard. I still enjoy an occasional liverwurst sandwich with onion and mustard. Johm, why are you against creamed herring? Haven’t you been to Germany, it’s still eaten there. I enjoy it occasionally now along with herring in wine sauce, whitefish salad and other european food. Have we become so Americanized that we no longer will eat the food we grew up with unless it comes from some overpriced “gourmet” restaurant. Good for all the folks who still eat this food.

JMan

August 31st, 2011
10:12 am

Sardines are not my favorites, but I ate them in Portugal and Italy where they like to grill them or roast them. They are delicious, fresh, and never too salty unlike the canned, oiled and sometimes brined variety. I enjoy the occasional herring but prefer the creamier whiting on a fresh bagel. As for the liverwurst. My mom made this with chicken livers which I prefer. I now prefer the smoke liverwurst from Patak, but I also like his regular as well. Yes, I do make them in sandwiches with a light or dark rye and spicy mustard. Yum!

1164mgc

August 31st, 2011
12:32 pm

I’m a vegetarian – and I’ve never had liverwurst or sardines (not even when I was young and ate meat). Am I smug if this article gets my mouth watering though? I agree that some of us are smug, but come on, there are plenty of us who aren’t! If I didn’t like the idea of sardines or liverwurst, I certainly wouldn’t have read the article. I guess some people just have to be bossy. Even about what other people eat!