Hooked On Sardines

I’m thrilled by sardines.  Go ahead, think I’m weird, it’s ok.  Having lived most of my life near waters where sardines have ceased to swim, the secrets of fresh sardines are still unfolding for me.  Look how beautiful they are.  They’re practically fish art, and the fact that they’re cheap, plentiful, and good for you only serves to enhance their beauty.

But, enhance it we must, unless raw sardines seem appealing.  I don’t know about you, but while I like to admire them raw, I prefer to eat them cooked.  Like this, for example.

My friend Marie gave me a sweet little cookbook recently, called “La Cuisine du Languedoc-Roussillon et de l’Aveyron.”  It’s full of simple, non chef-influenced recipes like this one, the kind grandmothers make when their families descend on them along with the rest of the August hordes that head to the south of France to enjoy the heat and the seafood.  The great thing about this recipe is that, according to the instructions, it can keep in the fridge for 10 days.  While I wouldn’t go that far, and it wouldn’t last that long around here anyway, I love a dish that will hang out peacefully in my fridge waiting to be served at a moment’s notice.  If you can get fresh sardines, try this while the weather is still warm.  That way you can have a swim, kick back with a cool drink, and still serve something brilliant for supper.

Sardines à l’Escabèche

1 kilo of sardine fillets
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 T. paprika
6 bay leaves
2 cups good olive oil
a splash of vinegar
salt

Rinse the sardines and pat dry.  Grill them on both sides, either over a wood fire or under the broiler.  Don’t cook them too long, 5 minutes total is the most it will take.  Arrange them in a flat dish, close together, and salt them well.

Heat the oil gently in a saucepan and add the chopped garlic, bay leaves, and paprika.  When the garlic is cooked but not browned turn off the heat.  Add a good splash of your favorite vinegar to the pan; I like to use sherry vinegar.  It will bubble and boil a bit.  When it stops, pour it over the sardines.  Let it chill in the fridge for at least a day before serving.

Now there, wasn’t that easy?  Actually, the hardest part is finding the fresh sardines.  Serve these with a green salad full of fresh herbs, on buttered bread, or with pasta.  If you find another good way to use them, please let me know.  I have a plateful in the fridge just awaiting inspiration.

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7 Comments on “Hooked On Sardines”


  1. You are right: that looks easy, that looks wonderful and the hardest part will be to locate fresh sardines – especially fillets! But it’s not that hard to fillet them, if only I could find them at all!

    I remember eating them grilled whole (head and tail) when I was growing up, on a quick intense outdoor fire – use dry grapevine for such a fire: it burns fast & hot – served with a lots of lemon juice and a little garlic mayonnaise. And chilled white wine.

  2. Rona Y Says:

    For the first time ever, I bought fresh sardines just based on this post! I gutted and filleted them myself (I think I lost more flesh than I should have…), grilled them in my fish grill, and they are now marinating in the paprika oil! I think they’re going to be delicious!

    is there anything I can do with the oil once the sardines are gone? I dipped my finger in it, and I think it tastes great on its own, but I’m at a loss at what to do other than dip some crusty bread in it, that is! Could it be re-used if I grill more sardines?

  3. Abra Bennett Says:

    Sylvie – I could never find fresh sardines in the US either, and I really don’t know why. They’re such a delicious and economical fish.

    Rona – How about frying some onions, peppers, and potatoes in the oil and seving it either as an omelette filling, or next to some scrambled eggs?

  4. Rona Y Says:

    Great idea! And along those lines, I’ve decided to use it to make hash browns, too, and drizzle some on scrambled eggs. The sardines are delicious (though I should have salted them a bit more), and the oil is even better! Grease is good, I always say.

  5. Matt Says:

    Do you have any recommendations for canned sardines? Unfortunately, that is all I can find in my area. I have made a simple but delicious recipe for a lemony sardine spread from Dorie Greenspan and would like to learn how to make more with what I have access to.

  6. Abra Bennett Says:

    Matt – In fact I eat tons of canned sardines. I’ll post my favorite sardine pasta recipe for you in a day or so. Check back!

  7. Pixie Says:

    The picture looks like Mackeral and not like sardines!!!
    But it looks yummy either way!


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