January 13, 2010

Holy Anchovy

When my kidneys failed six years ago, and I began my low sodium diet, I assumed certain foods were permanently off the “safe food” list. Anchovies, sardines, and any other tiny fish packed in a tin can, I thought, were swimming in sodium, and while I cannot say that I ever consciously chose to eat them before my diet changed, I found myself wincing with culinary jealousy when I read about other cooks using this fishy flavor to enrich their dishes.

Anchovy and herb pate, kale puttanesca, a chunky Mediterranean tapenade, a milky Cesar salad dressing, even bread – these recipes were all beyond my low sodium reach. I thought I had made amends with this reality, who needs anchovies anyways? But when I recently read this recipe for Down and Dirty Pasta e Cecci, my desire to have these mini fish fillets in my tool belt reached an all-time high.

I am always on the lookout for whole ingredients that, in their own right, provide an unique flavor to a dish and can give even a simple bed of lettuce complexity. I consider it a great accomplishment, deserving pats on the back, when I can cook something with a whole circus of flavors without ever reaching for my spice rack.

On Tuesday, while I was on a lovely stroll through the Whole Foods canned food aisle, buying beans of course, I just happened to peruse the packaged fish. As I’ve mentioned before, new, low sodium products crop up every day and it is good practice to constantly investigate familiar shelves for surprise additions. So, following my own advice, I did just that and turned every can of sardines around to look at its nutritional content.

500 mg of sodium. 300 mg of sodium. 70 mg of sodium?! Bam. Boom. I had struck gold. An entire container of Natural Sea Brisling Sardines for 70 mg of sodium, equal to the amount of sodium in one egg. Then gold turned into platinum and I found a container of Crown Prince Wild Caught Kipper Snacks for 60 mg of sodium. After that, things got really ridiculous and low sodium treats began pouring down on me. Naturally smoked Cole’s Petit Rainbow Trout at only 38mg per serving (with 2.5 per package) and a whole can of Crown Prince Boiled Baby Clams for 60mg of sodium. Bread bowl and clam chowder coming to a kitchen near you soon.

Of course, like any good low sodium cook, I bought every single one of these treats, which must have looked extremely strange at the cash register – this girl must really love tin-flavored fish. I am ecstatic at the multitude of culinary doors that have been opened and the new cooking adventures that lay ahead. I’m thinking that beyond using these sardines and kippers for anchovy-related recipes, they can also be chopped and used as a substitute for olives, giving those tangy recipes a similar zip. So friends, at the next few potlucks, expect every contribution I make to be a little fishy…in a good way, of course.

As I sign off for today, I pose a question to you, dear readers. What would you like to read about tomorrow:

1) a how-to on low sodium, miso marinated Chilean sea bass (seriously, you aren’t going to believe this one) or

2) perfectly poached, low sodium Eggs Benedict with dangerously good hollandaise?

Tomorrow’s post is up to you, so leave a comment here or write to sodiumgirl@gmail.com and remember, keep experimenting and as always, chow on.

waiwa January 13, 2010 at 1:15 pm

oooo oooo, please let it be chilean sea bass!

Magdalena Cabrera January 13, 2010 at 1:28 pm

HI Sodium Girl, the sea bass is tempting but I think it is one of the fish that we are supposed to not eat much of, or maybe not at all, due to over-fishing, mercury content in the big fish and such. So, I know your reader waiwa would like it to be sea bass, I just hope that if you do that , you will urge your readers to be mindful of what fish they choose to eat. Thanks.

Magdalena Cabrera January 13, 2010 at 1:32 pm
sodium girl January 13, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Hi Magdalena –

You are 100% correct that Chilean Sea Bass is in the red in terms of sustainable fish. The one I used for the recipe was from Whole Foods and was certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council based on the fishing techniques used to catch them. However, the fish is definitely still over fished and certainly contains a high amount of mercury, as do most fish of that size. This recipe actually should be with cod anyways, so when I do end up posting this how-to and the next time I make it, I’ll be sure to make the substitution.

Here are an article for curious readers on the status of Chilean Sea Bass at Whole Foods:


Karen Barritt January 13, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Sodium Girl you are rockin’ my kitchen! I haven’t been to Whole Foods in several weeks – that is for a leisurely read the labels kind of visit. I can’t wait to check out the can fish and I can’t wait to make your Chinese Chicken Salad from yesterday. I have been trolling low sodium sites since assuming a low sodium diet last July. (Generally well-controled CHF). At first I went off the deep end, keeping daily sodium intake to about 500 mg. Now I am pretty happy (and healthy) around 1500, though some days I can still hit the closer to 500 mark. Your site is the best I have trolled. 🙂 Thank you! Oh yeah and I would vote against the sea bass for the reason mentioned in the other comments!

sodium girl January 14, 2010 at 10:19 am

Wow Karen – first of all, it is magnificent to hear that you are doing so well and major applause for taking on your health care with such commitment and bravery. I am so glad that you are finding this site helpful. When I began my own journey with a restricted diet, I felt as though I couldn’t get any straightforward advice on how to manage my health while being able to live a full life. It really takes talking to the people who live the day-to-do with a disease or a particular challenge to understand how to balance a healthy life and a full life.

Please feel free to let me know if there are certain topics or recipes you have questions about – I am definitely not an expert, but with six years under my belt, I think I may have a tip or two.

All the best

Holly Plotnick April 21, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Thank you Sodium Girl! I just found out that I have liver disease and they cut my sodium to 2000mg a day as well as only 45mg protien. I spent so much time before worrying about carbs and fat, that I really never bothered to look at sodium and protein. Its amazing what I took for granted then and how super careful I have to be now….counting everything. I love my salty cheese and snacks so its been a big change for me.
Your blogs are interesting and have given me even more ideas! Every little bit helps I guess 🙂

Holly Plotnick April 21, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Sorry, I meant to say 45 grams of protein 🙂 Wow, 45 mg would be HORRIBLE!

Barbara Way August 11, 2011 at 8:26 am

Hey I just found this website – I am SO happy. My husband had a massive heart attack on July 6. No sodium or fat for him! I figured if he had to eat with these restrictions, I would join him.. What are soul mates for anyhow?? I have eaten all the ‘cardboard’ I can handle since July 6. I will be trolling through the archives here looking for something that tastes good. Thanks!

RC October 29, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Thanks for this! I’m also looking for tasty AND healthy. I know that sardines and anchovies and mussels are great sources of Omega 3’s, but always thought canned would be too much oil and salt. On my way to Whole Foods to look for those Brisling Sardines and those Crown Prince Kippers!

Holden February 8, 2013 at 2:08 pm

I am so EXCITED to find your site!!!

My elderly mother’s kidney failed and now she has to go low sodium. I am desperate to find recipes that will satisfy her without tasting like newspaper. How wonderful to find your site and all the invaluable information you share. Thank you.

May I ask what was the brand of the anchovies that you found with the low sodium content?

Savanasue August 7, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Hi Holden!
Anchovies, by their nature, are high in sodium. They are actually sardine-like fish which are dry-curred in salt and sometimes also oil. I think Sodium girl was looking for alternatives, but in my opionion the closest thing to the same flavor would be the smoked oysters. Not the same as anchovies, but then it is their salty taste that gives them that distinctive flavor.
I will have to slice a few oysters and top my vegi pizza with them to see, even though oysters are not kosher like sardines, kippers and anchovies.

Valerie Miller January 9, 2015 at 3:15 am

Do you you know where else I can get these items like anchovies besides Whole Foods I do not have one close to me thank you

jessg23 January 26, 2015 at 8:47 pm

As with any low-sodium product, if you can’t find it in the store try looking online at the company website. You can often purchase online or find out where else they are sold! Let me know if you have trouble finding/getting the product you want. Or you can always ask your local market if they can start carrying the product. Never hurts to ask.

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