Fresh sardines are an amazing and super healthy treat. And, they are affordable. Sardines are extremely popular in Mediterranean dishes, especially in Portugal. Yet, they are available in many parts of the world, including both coasts of the USA. It is surprising that we don’t see them on menus or in fish markets more often.
Not only are these oily little fish delicious, they are also loaded with nutrients. Sardines are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids that we need for cardiovascular and musculoskeletal health. These little powerhouses are also rich in vitamin B12, niacin, calcium, selenium, and phosphorus. Sardines are small schooling salt-water fish that feed on plankton and small crustaceans.
If you are fortunate enough to find fresh sardines, not frozen or canned, make sure they are right out of the ocean. Look for sardines with bright clear eyes, no strong odor, and whole. If they smell fishy or look a little mushy, do not buy them. Fresh sardines break down quickly, so eat them right away.
Ask your fish monger to gut, scale, and rinse the sardines for you. This is not an easy task for the home cook because the fish are quite delicate. The heads can remain intact. They add lots of flavor when cooking.
My favorite method of cooking fresh sardines is to grill them either over an open fire or on my George Foreman Contact Grill with just lemon, olive oil, and some seasonings. The Foreman grill works a bit better for me because it is easy to overcook these small delicacies on a charcoal or gas grill. I have also been known to lose a few when they fall through the gaps in the grill grate into the fire.
Sardines have a spine and tiny bones that you have to deal with. I find it is easiest to grill the sardines with the bones in and then butterfly them and gently remove the backbone with a sharp knife and a small fork. A few pin bones may remain that you can take out with tweezers. These bones are often soft enough to eat safely.
You can eat grilled sardines just as they are. I like to serve them over some lightly dressed greens, which is how I often got them when dining in Western Europe. They are also excellent with a really fresh tomato sauce or roasted tomatoes on toasted crostini. We have included a couple of options for serving the sardines after grilling them. Prepare the accompaniments prior to grilling the sardines. These little fish take only a couple of minutes to cook and are best served while still warm.
Easy Grilled Fresh Whole Sardines
- 12 medium to large fresh sardines, scaled and gutted
- 3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 2 TBS fresh lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp chopped fresh oregano or thyme leaves
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Total time:8 min – Prep time:5 min + 30 min for marinating – Cook time:3 min – Serves:2 people
1. Rinse the sardines under cold water and pat completely dry with paper towels.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper. Arrange the sardines in a single layer on the bottom of a shallow baking dish. Spoon some of the marinade into the cavity of each fish. Pour the rest of the marinade over the fish and turn them to cover evenly. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes while you prepare your accompaniments.
3. Preheat your GF grill to high with the top closed for approximately 5 minutes. Put the drip tray in place.
4. Grill the sardines with the top closed for approximately 2 to 3 minutes until cooked through. Remove the bones from the sardines as gently as possible with a sharp knife and small fork. Or, allow your family or guests to remove them.
5. Serve the sardines with the suggestions below.
Dressed Salad with Grilled Sardines
- 1/3 cup good extra virgin olive oil
- 2 TBS apple cider vinegar
- 1 TBS Dijon mustard
- 1 TBS honey
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly cracked pepper
- 2 cups cleaned frisee lettuce
- 2 cups cleaned baby arugula leaves
- 1 cup cleaned baby spinach leaves
- 12 grilled sardines
Feel free to use 5 cups of your favorite packaged salad greens mix in place of the greens in the ingredients list.
Total time: 15 min – Prep time: 15 min – Serves: 4 people
1. In a jar with a lid, add the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt, and pepper. Place the lid on and shake well until all is mixed well and slightly thickened.
2. Arrange the cleaned and dried greens on a large serving platter. Pour the dressing evenly over the greens.
3. Place the sardines in a single layer on top of the salad and serve with some grilled bread.
Grilled Crostini with Blistered Tomatoes and Sardines
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic finely minced or pressed
- 1/2 tsp course sea salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 6 to 8 (1/2” thick) slices of baguette
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 TBS minced flat leaf parsley for garnish
- 12 grilled sardines
Total time: 25 min – Prep time: 20 min – Cook time: 5 min – Serves: 2 people
Preheat your GF grill to high with the top closed, approximately 5 minutes. Put the drip tray in place.
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.
2. Brush both sides of the bread with the oil mixture.
3. Grill the bread slices with the top closed until toasted with nice grill marks, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Set the crostini aside on a platter.
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil and salt. Add the tomatoes and toss to coat completely.
2. Place the tomatoes, cut side down on the grill and close the top. Grill until the tomato skins blister and just start to darken, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. (You may need some paper towels beneath the drip tray to collect the extra tomato juices).
3. Remove the tomatoes to a serving bowl. You can pour the drippings from the tray over the tomatoes, if desired. Garnish with parsley.
4. Right before serving, after the sardines are cooked, spoon tomatoes over the bread slices. Serve alongside the sardines, or place sardines on top of the crostini with tomatoes.
Sardines have quite a depth of flavor, as well as some fat. I personally like them served with a crisp, dry white wine, such as an Albariño from northern Portugal. Chablis is also quite nice, as is a sparking, dry Prosecco. It is not unusual to serve a dry red wine with sardines, such as a Rioja from Spain. If you aren’t a wine drinker, sardines are also great with a lighter beer that doesn’t overpower them.