Sardines (About)

Sardines in a Can

Sardines in a Can

by Cat, June 2010 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Includes: 1. Cleaning & Filleting Sardines; 2. Marinated Sardines (recipe)

See also (this site): Pasta con le Sarde (and other sites): Sunset magazine recipe: Pan Fried Sardines with Sweet & Sour Onions, Pine Nuts and Raisins (5)

All these years I’ve only known sardines as those tiny, oily fish in a flat can that took a special key to open by rolling the top around the key (photo, above right). But now, because of all the interest in Omega-3 fats and in sustainable seafood, fresh sardines are becoming popular. Because they are little, they don’t accumulate mercury the way larger fish like halibut can. (This is important to me because I already have mercury toxicity). Fresh sardines have a distinct advantage over canned because the heat of canning may oxidize the Omega-3 fats, turning them into free radicals.

Sardines  are an excellent source of Omega-3 fats. They also are an excellent source of vitamins B12, B3, and vitamin D; minerals selenium, phosphorus and calcium, and are packed with protein. (6)

If you cannot obtain fresh sardines, choose those canned in olive oil rather than soybean oil, and store in a cool cupboard away from heat sources. Turn the can once in awhile to ensure all parts of the sardines are exposed to the oil. (6)

I’ve yet to try fresh sardines, because my local grocer cannot get them (no local demand); I’d love to try them with pasta (see Pasta con le Sarde). I understand that current sources are from well-managed West Coast fisheries, as a sustainable crop. Sunset magazine (1) suggests the following ways to try fresh sardines:

  • Marinate in olive oil with chiles and herbs, then grill;
  • Marinate as above but without the chiles; then lay over sliced tomatoes on baguette slices, drizzle with marinade and broil;
  • Dip in beaten egg, then in seasoned panko and bake or fry.

But before you cook or marinate them, you want to clean and fillet them.

Cleaning and Filleting Sardines

From Sunset Magazine (2) (Photo, below, from Wikimedia Commons):

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  1. Remove guts: wearing gloves, lay each fish on its side on a work surface. Cut through fish 1/4″ in from edge of belly, along its length. Pull out guts and rinse fish.
  2. Scale: Gently scrape fish from tail to head with your fingertips (against the grain) to loosen scales
  3. Trim: with kitchen scissors, cut off dorsal (top) fin and tail. Rinse fish and work surface.
  4. Fillet: At collar below head, score slits in fish on each side, just to the bone. Hold fish head with one hand; with index and middle fingers of your other hand, make a scissor shape; slide “blades” into slits on either side of fish and, sliding along backbone to the tail, pull fillets free from bone.
  5. Cut fillets: Cut in half lengthwise and pull of an pin bones.

Marinated Sardines (recipe)

If you want the benefit of the Omega-3 fats, you’ll want to eat them raw or only lightly cooked (rare) so the precious fats don’t become oxidized. The best way to eat them raw is to marinate them with a bit of vinegar or dry vermouth. An advantage to marinating with vinegar is that it provides a good balance to the oil from the fish.

Verjus & Vinegar: This recipe uses a combination of wine vinegar and verjus (the raw, pressed juice of unripened grapes). You could also use raw cider vinegar (or raw vinegar/lemon juice mix) instead of the vinegar/verjus combo. Raw vinegar provides beneficial probiotics that will keep unwanted bad bacteria at bay if you’re not going to eat the fillets right away. And add just a tad of raw honey to the vinegar for its preserving qualities and also flavor (verjus is slightly sweet, compared to vinegar).

See Mother Linda (3) for more on verjus, including recipes.  Verjus is available form Dean & Deluca, New York, (800) 999-0306.

This recipe is adapted form the New York Times (4), and serves 4.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 8 raw sardines, cleaned, scaled and filleted as above
  • 1/4 cup julienne onion
  • 1/4 cup julienne fresh fennel bulb
  • 1/4 cup carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano (or more, if using fresh)
  • ¾ tsp Kosher Salt or unrefined sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/3 cups verjus (see intro)
  • 2/3 cup white wine vinegar, or raw apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup (generous) extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 fresh bay leaves for garnish (optional)
  • 4 spirals of orange zest for garnish (optional)
  • bowl
  • shallow casserole dish with lid


  1. Prep the veggies and combine in a bowl.
  2. Select a shallow casserole dish large enough to lay all 16 sardine halves without overlapping. Spread out half of the veggies in the pan, then sprinkle with half the oregano, salt and pepper.
  3. Lay the fillets flesh-side-down over the veggies. Top with remaining veggies, oregano, salt and pepper.
  4. Combine verjus and vinegar in measuring cup. Pour over sardine mixture, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
  5. Pour off all the liquid; cover sardine-veggie mixture with the olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but best overnight.
  6. Serve 5 fillets per person, including a fourth of the pickled veggies. Garnish each with bay leaf and orange zest.


  1. Sunset magazine, Top 10 Foods for Energy: #5, Sardines:
  2. Sunset magazine, How to clean & fillet sardines :
  3. Mother Linda on
  4. New York Times recipe:
  5. Sunset recipe, Pan Fried Sardines with Sweet & Sour Onions, Pine Nuts and Raisins via My
  6. Worlds Healthiest Foods on sardines:

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