The $3 Canned Good I’ve Been Snacking on Since the ’70s (It Was My Dad’s Favorite!)

published Jul 7, 2024
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head on shot of an assortment of canned pantry items on white wire pantry shelves.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Prop Styling: Tom Hoerup

I spent a lot of time watching Milwaukee Brewers baseball on TV with my dad, not because I found the sport all that interesting, but because my dad was a great snack assembler. Long before grazing boards were a thing, my dad had a knack for quickly putting together pantry ingredients to create platters of what he called “wee nibbles” to snack on while we watched baseball. With the TV sound turned down and his transistor radio tuned into Bob “Mr. Baseball” Uecher calling the games, we’d nosh our way through each inning.

My dad loved seafood, so nearly every snack platter he made was anchored by a tin of King Oscar sardines. Way before trendy tinned fish and fancy Spanish conservas were a thing, my dad taught me the value of a good tinned sardine. 

Credit: Ivy Manning

What’s So Great About King Oscar Sardines in Extra-Virgin Olive Oil?

King Oscar sardines are tender little fish that are caught in the cold waters around Norway. They are lightly smoked, canned whole, and packed in olive oil. While they certainly taste like fish, they aren’t “fishy” per se, and the bones are so tiny that the fish can be eaten whole. 

Back then, it was a delicious, cheap snack that was anything but posh. Imagine my surprise 40 years later when the tinned fish trend popped up! Since the surge, I’ve sampled dozens of different canned sardines from all over the world. I’ve enjoyed tinned sardines from France, Japan, Portugal, and even the Philippines in a wide array of flavors including habanero, teriyaki (hard pass), truffle oil, and even curry. 

While it’s fun to try these fancy fish now and then, they come at a cost — some running as high as $15 per can! They’re tasty, sure, but not any better than my dad’s old favorite King Oscar brisling sardines at about $3 a can. They are actually less than that if you buy a package of six or eight (or even 12!), which is what I buy because they’re such a great pantry staple to have on hand.  

Credit: Ivy Manning

What’s the Best Way to Serve King Oscar Sardines in Extra-Virgin Olive Oil? 

I serve King Oscar sardines exactly as my dad did, on Saltine crackers that have been spread liberally with butter. I use the same tiny trident fork he used to transfer a single fish to a cracker, give it a squeeze of lemon and a few dashes of hot sauce. The acidity of citrus and the pop of heat from hot sauce helps to neutralize the richness and fishiness of the fish. 

Dad swore by Tabasco, probably because that’s pretty much all there was back in the ’70s in Wisconsin. These days, I go with Marshall’s Haute Sauce Uncle Nearest Whiskey Smoked Ghost hot sauce; the tangy flavor with a hint of smoke is just right for the rich fish and buttery cracker. 

I don’t watch baseball much anymore now that he’s gone, but I do snack on sardines on buttered crackers with lemon and hot sauce often. Every time I open a can, I can almost hear the crack of the bat and the roar of the baseball stadium crowd.

Buy: King Oscar Wild Caught Sardines in Olive Oil, $2.76 for 4.38 ounces at Walmart

What are some of your family-favorite snacks? Tell us about it in the comments below.