Fresh sardines are easier to love, so if canned sardines are to enjoy the revival I think they deserve, they need to be full of distinctive, rich flavor—but not too fishy. Sardines packed in water give the purest taste and are the best choice for salads and in recipes, especially because the oil most packers use is terrible.
Granadaisa, from Morocco and available at www.barneygreengrass.com, is an exception, because even bad olive oil in Morocco is usually pretty good. And these sardines are lush (as all oil-packed fish should be), meaty, and authoritative—a way to convert tuna-lovers.
Season (www.seasonproducts.com) packs fat, smooth, superior sardines free of the chalky texture of many canned sardines.
Beach Cliff sardines (www.beachcliff.info), from Prospect Harbor, Maine, up the coast from its more famous cousin Port Clyde, are actually small herring, the East Coast version of sardines, and wider and meatier (if a bit less finely flavored) than many European and Mediterranean sardines.
Bela-Olhão, from Portugal (www.mybela.com), only come smoked, which I generally avoid (you taste the smoke, not the fish), and in sauces, which I also find generally extraneous attempts to cut the richness with tomato (which Bela-Olhão offers) or mustard or chiles. I include them here because they’re well distributed in gourmet shops, packed in good-quality olive oil, and sold in cheery tins besides. They also make an easy and satisfying lunch at the (preferably well-ventilated) office.