cooking sardines

How to Cook with Sardines

Forget their bad reputation. Sardines are nutritional powerhouses that can be quite tasty once you learn how to cook them.

By Diane Forley

How to Cook with Sardines

Sardines are a great source of protein, healthy fats, calcium, and vitamin D.

RODALE, NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Summer seems to call out for fresh fish. Light and tasty, it pairs well with the season's fresh fruits and vegetables and—a godsend on hot, sweltering days—you can usually cook fish in under 10 minutes and not spend too much time over a hot stove. But with concerns over mercury contamination and other environmental pollutants that build up in some fish, and with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill driving up prices on some species, you may not be enjoying fish this summer as much as you normally would be.

Time to try sardines! Despite their reputation for being oily and unappetizing, sardines are actually quite tasty and are one of the safest fish to eat, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Super Green fish list: high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids (which help to regulate and lower cholesterol levels) and low in carbohydrates and environmental contaminants. A can of sardines contains a whopping 37 grams of protein, and they're also high in iron, vitamin D, and calcium.

Find Them Fresh

Fresh sardines are a seasonal delicacy, usually available from your local fishmonger during the summer months. Easy to sauté, bake, and grill, fresh sardines can substitute for salmon or tuna in most recipes, or serve as an elegant appetizer or Spanish "tapas." Because of their distinctive flavor and oily composition, sardines pair well with sharply flavored ingredients, such as tomato sauce, mustard dressings, and lemon.

If this is your first time cooking sardines, a simple way to start is to cook them whole, removing the bones first then breading them lightly before baking them or sautéing them in olive oil. To prepare fish cutlets, flavor breadcrumbs with chopped tarragon and some zest from an orange rind. Brush the filets with Dijon mustard and then dip them in breadcrumbs. Place your fish on a baking sheet brushed with olive oil and bake in the oven until golden. Serve with lemon wedges.

You can also infuse flavors into sardines by marinating them before or after cooking. For a fresh marinade, chop one tablespoon each of fresh rosemary and parsley leaves, lemon juice, and olive oil. Pour over fish filets and let marinate for one hour. Sauté or grill for two minutes on each side. Finish with a sprinkling of sea salt and serve with a peppery watercress salad.

Escabeche, a Spanish-style brine that is poured over cooked fish is an ideal preparation for sardines. Dissolve a few tablespoons of honey or sugar in red wine vinegar with sliced onion, bay leaf, and coriander. Pour over cooked sardines and let marinate overnight. Serve with a chopped vegetable salad.


Published on: July 6, 2010

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