101 – And Counting – Things You Can Do With Sardines

“‘Rat,’ he moaned, ‘how about your supper, you poor cold, hungry, weary animal? I’ve nothing to give you – nothing – not a crumb!’

‘What a fellow you are for giving in!’ said the Rat reproachfully. ‘Why, only just now I saw a sardine-opener on the kitchen dresser, quite distinctly; and everyone knows that means there are sardines about somewhere in the neighbourhood. Rouse yourself! Pull yourself together, and come with me and forage.'”

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Jack Milroy’s witty sardine sculpture, One Hundred Days of Lunch, inspired me to write this post. To see that, and find out a bit more about the philosophy behind it, go to the bottom of this post.

Once started I could hardly stop, and now I keep adding to the original hundred ideas.

At the very bottom of this post you’ll find a YouTube clip of the Hot Sardines jazz band – listen as you peruse.

And below the hundred or so ideas you’ll find a bit more about:

  • sardines in general (which are the best, how to make them taste less ‘fishy’ and much else);
  • the Sardinade, a sardine festival held annually in the south of France.


Ten ways of frying sardines:

1. Fry simply with lemon zest, garlic and lots of parsley

2. Fry with chickpeas, halved baby plum tomatoes, coriander, garlic, saffron and lime juice and zest

3. Sweet and sour sardines

4. Whisk seasoned flour into beer, coat sardines, fry in very hot oil (rapeseed) and serve with wedges of lime. Serve as a starter.

5. Put the sardines in the frying pan, and add garlic crushed with smoked salt and Panko breadcrumbs

6. Mash with parsley, garlic, breadcrumbs, grated parmesan and garlic. Roll into balls and fry. Serve on lettuce leaves and drizzle with good quality soy sauce and sprinkle with lime zest

7. Break up the sardines and fry with peanuts, garlic and a very few dried, crushed chillies. Roast for about ten minutes. Sprinkle generously over sea salt flakes and lime zest.

8. Coat with fine semolina and lemon zest – fry in hot oil

9. Fry and pour over hot chilli sauce

10. Fried with mashed avocado, Greek yoghurt and wasabi

Six ways of using sardines in pasta:

11. Add to pasta together with fennel

12. Add to pasta with black olives, a tomato, a banana shallot, capers

13. Bake with pasta, baby vegetables and a cheese sauce

14. In a pasta with lemon, garlic, Parmesan and broccoli

15. Add to spaghetti vongole

16. With black spaghetti and pesto

Sardines go well with pasta.
Sardines go well with pasta.

Fourteen salads containing sardines:

17. Substitute for the anchovies in a Caesar salad

18. Substitute for the tuna in a salad niçoise

19. Coat with harissa and serve with couscous with rocket or watercress chopped into it

20. Add to a Greek salad

21. With deli artichoke hearts and red peppers; black olives, cucumbers

22. Make a salad of cucumbers, chickpeas and feta

23. Make a salad of fresh beetroot and dill

24. Broken up in a green salad with garlic croutons

25. Mix with sliced beetroot and dress with sour cream, horseradish and dill. Serve on peppery watercress or rocket

26. Add to a mandarin or tangerine salad

27. Mixed with quinoa and seeded and chopped cucumber, wrapped in seaweed and served with tamari sauce as a dipping sauce

28. A salad of spinach leaves, crispy bacon and lemon zest

29. Mix with apple, walnuts, mustard and mayonnaise

30. With quinoa, roast broccolini and capers

102. And the one hundred and second method, just found, with oak-leaved salad, boursin, fennel and orange.

103. One hundred and third method – chickpea salad: for four mix two tins of sardines in oil with six quartered artichokes, six chopped sundried tomatoes, a cup of raisins (soaked in the cup with hot water and a tea bag of apple tea), a tin of drained chick peas, a cup of spelt (covered in water and cooked for 25 minutes -not easy to find so optional), two red peppers, eight baby plum tomatoes and a whole bag of chopped parsley.

Sardine and chickpea salad
Method Number 103: Sardine and chickpea salad

Fourteen ways to serve sardines with vegetables:

31. Serve with flash-fried cavolo nero, pine nuts and raisins… or substitute cabbage for the cavolo nero

32. Stuff peppers with breadcrumbs, sardines, garlic, olive oil and lime. Fry on all sides. Drizzle over soy sauce

33. Serve with saffron cauliflower roasted with pine nuts and raisins

34. Add to a Swiss chard gratin

35. With spinach and chickpeas

36. Roast them and serve with a leek vinaigrette

37. Serve with sauerkraut and warm rye bread

38. Cut aubergines in half, roast an hour, scoop out flesh, mix with mashed sardines, some chopped tomatoes, basil and a little yoghurt

39. Fry and serve with ratatouille

40. Grill and serve with samphire

41. With whole roast garlic and redcurrant jelly

42. Fry snow peas, water chestnuts, ginger and bamboo shoots in a wok. Add the broken up sardines. Add some chopped coriander. Drizzle over soy sauce.

43. Long thin strips of courgettes fried with raisins and pine nuts

44. With caponata

Five ways of eating sardines with eggs:

45. Serve with scrambled eggs and chopped spring onion

46. Mix into fried rice and top with a fried egg

47. Add to an omelette, serve with a tomato salad

48. Roast with chopped banana shallot, parsley, garlic and some of the oil in the tin for five minutes or so. Break over a couple of eggs, roast for another five minutes or so until the white of the eggs has turned white. Serve with toast and maybe Wow Wow sauce….

49. Mix with hard boiled eggs and serve with toast

104. And an additional Mousse of Egg and Sardine from Agnes Jekyll’s Kitchen Essays which she advises should be eaten with thin, crisp toast: “Take a hard boiled egg and pass it through a sieve into a basin; skin and bone four small sardines and pass through a sieve. Mix these two with a filbert-sized piece of fresh butter; add pepper, and moisten all with a little cream if available. Good also for breakfast as a change from marmalade.”

Nine recipes for sardines and potatoes:

50. Break up and add, with capers to crushed lemony potatoes

51. With spinach and a baked potato (follow this link for the way to a perfect baked potato)

52. Make fishcakes with mashed potato, garlic, lemon juice (save the zest). Coat with a beaten egg and Panko breadcrumbs. Fry and serve with a green salad. Or you can make Turkish croquettes – Balik Kroket – by using mashed potato, dil peyniri (or mozzarella), parsley, dill, mint and lemon zest – coat with beaten egg and then breadcrumbs as for fish cakes, and fry.

53. Mash with mayonnaise or yoghurt and eat with a jacket potato and chutney

54. In a potato and baby plum tomato salad with a mustard dressing

55. With sauce vierge and boiled jersey royal potatoes

56. Layer with sliced potatoes, tinned tomatoes (chopped, but use all the juice), chopped banana shallot, bunch of chopped parsley, garlic crushed with smoked salt, twenty grinds of Indonesian long black pepper

57. In a tagine with new potatoes, green pepper, chermoula, shallots, tomato and olives

58. On a baked potato topped with crème fraîche mixed with chopped, cooked mushrooms, garnished with shredded lettuce

Fourteen ways of eating sardines with bread or in tacos:

59. Mix with aioli and chopped celery, spring onions and fennel, fill a baguette

60. Serve, mashed with tomato paste, in tacos with rocket and spring onions

61. Mash with chopped fresh tomato and basil and serve on French bread – bruschetta

62. On toast, mashed with Dijon mustard – Michel Roux Jr adds shallot and Worcestershire sauce

63. On toast, mashed with garlic and herb Boursin

64. Bake buttered bread in the oven to toast it, top with a sardine, heat a bit longer. Serve with a lemon wedge and some yoghurt

65. In a sandwich with egg, capers, cucumbers and tomatoes

66. On toast with cucumbers, black olives and roast red peppers from the deli

67. Serve on rye bread with avocado. Make a dressing by mixing some of the olive oil from the tin with the juice of a lime and garnish with the lime zest and some furikake

68. Stuff a buttered roll with the broken up sardines, chopped sun dried tomato and crispy crumbled streaky bacon
69. On French bread with brie, spring onions and sliced tomato

70. On toast with red onion chutney

71. With humous and coriander on toast

72. Marlene Dietrich was an insomniac who said the only thing which lulled her to sleep was a sardine and onion sandwich on rye.

105…. also …. with Barbarella-panzanella, orgasmic bread salad.

Dietrich believed sardines were a cure for insomnia. Portrait by Sonia Lawson at the RA summer exhibition 2016
Dietrich believed sardines were a cure for insomnia. Portrait by Sonia Lawson at the RA summer exhibition 2016

Four, or so, recipes for sardine pâtés and dips:

73. Add to tapenade and avocado for an interesting dip

74. Make a dip by mashing with avocado, a little Greek yoghurt, finely chopped rocket or watercress, and some chopped dill

75. Make pâté by mashing with Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese (or, if you are feeling less wholesome, cream cheese) and a squeeze of lemon. Dust with sweet smoked Spanish paprika… or cayenne

76. A really EXCELLENT STARTER – an invention of Prince Radziwill – from a Hungarian family who has such extensive estates that, riding all day for three weeks, you still could not cross them. It comes from a time when smoked salmon was plentiful (as indeed it has now once again become) but the canning process for sardines had only just been discovered, so a tin of sardines was a luxury. In any case Prince Radziwill could clearly stand a couple of tins, and to these he (or some minion or other) added 120g/4oz of mashed, chopped smoked salmon, the same weight of butter, and a generous sprinkling of sweet, smoked Spanish paprika.

106. Or make yet another type of pate, much naughtier than the saintly  yoghurt and cottage cheese version above, and impressive to look at. Four four people mix a tin of sardines with 100g/4 oz of butter and a couple of tbsp each of whisky and double cream. Blanche a few cauliflower florets (about a cup and a half of small mini-florets) keeping some back for garnish and mashing the rest with four or five tbsp cream (do this carefully, it should not become sloppy) and some freshly grated nutmeg (follow this link if you have just grated your fingers). Make twelve mug-diameter parmesan crisps (you could also use melba toast). Put just under a quarter of the creamed cauliflower on the crisp, cover with another crisp, then a quarter of the sardine pâté, cover with a third crisp, top with a spread of the creamed cauliflower to act as glue for the cauliflower floret garnish and some snipped coriander. Repeat three more times.

Make pâté by mashing with Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese (or, if you are feeling less wholesome, cream cheese) and a squeeze of lemon.

Sardines in a pie, quiche or pizza – pastry of some kind:

77. Top a pizza base with tomato sauce, spread over sardines and rocket or watercress and a thinly sliced orange bell pepper

78. Roll out some puff pastry, and spread over some tomato puree or tomato sauce mixed with a little Patum Peperium if you have it (or anchovy paste). Top with broken sardines, capers, chopped banana shallot. Sprinkle with furikake.

79. Add to a cheesy quiche

80. Wrapped in filo with cayenne, lemon juice and Vache qui rit, or Primula, or Dairy Lea – plastic cheese that comes in prepacked foil sections.

vache qui rit
Use the type of plastic cheese which comes wrapped in foil.

81. Make cheesy chou buns, and stuff with sardines mashed with feta

82. Stargazey pie – in a mustard sauce with bacon and hard-boiled eggs and a puff pastry crust. This pie is a Cornish dish usually made with fresh pilchards, so you will need a delicate and steady hand to attempt it with tinned sardines. It’s so named because the heads of the fish protrude through the pastry case, gazing as it were, at the stars. You will need to give your tinned fish a helping hand by slitting the pastry and building it up around them. It’s not just a poetic concept: the idea was to allow the oils released by the heat of the cooking to flow back into the pie, thus enriching the flavour.

83. A pizza with red pepper, fontina, bacon and balsamic vinegar

Eighteen random culinary uses for sardines:

84. Add to tomato sauce to make it a bit more interesting

85. Mix with ricotta, curry powder and lemon

86. Add to a fish pie

87. Put into a seafood chowder

88. Warm through and serve with chermoula

89. Make a fish curry with tomato sauce, curry powder, garlic, onions… and red cabbage or peppers or both

90. Shove as many mint leaves as you can into the tin, and leave somewhere warm for about an hour. Dust with seasoned flour and fry in rapeseed oil. Serve with lemon wedges.

91. Instead of mint infuse with thyme, and then barbeque or grill them

92. Spread a couple of layers of slices of apple with tapenade, top with sardines and a slice of lemon, roast ten minutes

93. With crème fraîche and a finely chopped prune

94. Wrap in bacon with or without a  a prune and make a fishy devil on horseback. Or make a meal of it – once your bacon-wrapped sardines are fried, put into an oven-proof dish, cover with cheese sauce and bake ten minutes.

95. With roasted sweet potatoes

96. With mint, garlic and lemon

97. With mozzarella, basil, cannellini beans and baby plum tomatoes

98. Thai style – caramelised in coconut water

99. With escabeche

100. In a curry puff

and…..101. With brown rice and dried seaweed – wakame or nori.

Which are the best sardines?

Some of the best sardines come from Brittany, Truly French imports them with four different additional flavours – lemon, green peppercorns, chorizo and dried tomatoes. All are excellent.

Alternatively you can use Italian or Portuguese (Angelo Parodi are good) sardines in olive oil (avoid flavoured sauces…. tomato etc).

Parodi sardines come in fabulously designed packaging.
Parodi sardines come in fabulously designed packaging.

“Tinned sardines were also, optimistically, marketed as the luxuries of the patrician class to the middle-class readers of Woman’s Life: ‘Oh Tomkins, this is your evening out, is it not? Just lay the table for supper and put out the tin of Skippers (there’s a tin in the cupboard). We’ll open it ourselves.’ ”

Pen Vogler, Scoff: A History of Food and Class in Britain

“Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster.”

Ferran Adrià

….and what are pilchards?

Cornish pilchards  are also excellent – (pilchards are large sardines).

Eating tinned sardines in a restaurant

The idea of going to a restaurant to eat tinned sardines may seem crazy, but the best tinned sardines I have ever eaten were served at Le Café-Épicerie in Lyon. Highly recommended, little baby sardines, served with an aubergine mousse and sourdough toast.

baby tinned sardines
Baby tinned sardines at Le Café-Épicerie in Lyon

What to do to make your sardines less ‘fishy’

If you want your sardines to taste a bit less ‘fishy’ you can soak them in milk for an hour.

About the Sardinade sardine festival in the south of France

If you are really keen on sardines you should go to the annual August festival of the Sardinade, held in the tiny French village of Catllar, Nr Prades in the Pyrenees. Everyone is welcome, and the menu (for 15 euros) comprises giant couscous with vegetables; as many sardines as you can eat; as many sausages you can eat; perfect Camembert; followed by a chocolate éclair, all accompanied with as much wine as you want and finished with the local sweet wine served in a special pouring jug that you have to pour directly into your mouth.

special glass pourer for the sweet wine at the end of the meal... needs skill and practice
special glass pourer for the sweet wine at the end of the meal… needs skill and practice

“I could taste again the grilled sardines we ate on the quay at Douarnenez and see my father demonstrating how his father ate sardines à la mordicai: you took a live sardine by the tail and swallowed it.”

Bruce Chatwin, A Coup, in Granta 10, Spring 1984

About Jack Milroy’s A Hundred Days of Lunch, and what his sardines were saying

Intrigued by the reviews and attracted by the idea of a quiet gem of a gallery showing a calmly witty exhibition I sought out Art First’s exhibition of Jack Milroy’s sculptured installations as an antidote to a frantic day visiting crowded, famous, large exhibitions.

I wasn’t disappointed. It was a tranquil oasis in the creative area of Fitzrovia, north of Oxford Street at the end of Wardour Street. Every construction was intriguing. Milroy must be the most patient, steady-handed artist. He produces scalpel-sculpted, fragile works from paper and film, often on a large scale, with meanings subtly subversive.

My favourite were three which were the same scale and exhibited one on top of the other, a triptych of a kind, named Cloud, Nest, Water. I’ve always had the idea that books were precious and damaging and that defacing them in any way was tantamount to a kind of heresy, but I felt entirely comfortable with these pieces which featured the vintage books spewing their perfectly shredded, fine-foaming, rolling contents, with illustrations of their central concepts rising out of the fine spiralling wires of intertwining paper. I discovered later that this piece is a Darwinian joke – the eggs in the middle hatching either into the angels above, or sea creatures below.

However, this is a food blog and I digress. The main exhibit (or at least the one in the window of the gallery) was entitled One Hundred Days of Lunch. It features a hundred tins of sardines, their metal shiny lids curled back and sardines emerging joyously upwards from within their canned imprisonment in a fine frenzy of freedom. Milroy has done other sardine sculptures where the roll of the sea wave hides in the sprung curl of the peeled back top. His cutting and bending releases the two-dimensional fish to leap, free, three-dimensional from their can.

It’s more a statement of nature’s release than a pronouncement against fishing, I’m assuming, since sardines are some of the most sustainably harvested fish one can buy.

Jack Milroy is showing at Art First, 21 Eastcastle Street, London, W1.

Detail from Jack Milroy's A Hundred Days of Lunch
Detail from Jack Milroy’s A Hundred Days of Lunch
One Hundred Days of Lunch was in the window – a bit more difficult to see than the other exhibits.

Music to listen to as you read – The Hot Sardines… of course

Here they are with Goin’ Crazy With The Blues… or maybe a surfeit of sardines….

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