Sardines – The Misunderstood Fish


Fresh sardines at the market

Sardines are an underrated culinary pleasure – they definitely don’t enjoy nearly the same status as salmon, for example.  I’m not talking about the little ones that are packed into a little tin.  I mean fresh sardines, which have a lot of good things going for them:
  • They’re healthy:  Sardines have more omega-3 fatty acids than almost any other fish. They’re also packed with  calcium and protein.
  • They’re affordable:  They are much cheaper than most local seafood, you can buy them around $4-$5/lb.  in season.
  • They’re safe:  Sardines are harvested when they’re only a few years old, so they don’t accumulate the mercury levels that tuna and other slow-growing fish acquire.
  • They’re a sustainable seafood:  Sardines reproduce quickly, so they don’t face the threat of overfishing that other more popular fish do.

Fresh sardines also don’t taste anywhere near the same way that canned do.  Trust me, they’re better.

Finding fresh sardines is a good reason to drop everything and run to the market.   They’re usually available in the summer, but you might be able to find them as late in the season as early December, if you’re lucky.  You should eat them the day that you buy them, because they’re not always available at the market (even in season) and you don’t know when you’ll see them again.  Because they are high in omega-3s, they tend to spoil faster than other fish.  They also don’t freeze well.

I had seen fresh sardines at the market early in the summer and I didn’t buy them.  It was 7 months before I saw them again this week, and while I overpaid for them (at Whole Foods, no less), they were worth the cost.  Whenever I see them at a restaurant (which, sadly, is rare), I’ll order them.

As I have said in the past, with seafood, simplicity is key.  The best way to eat fresh sardines is either grilled with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper; or my favorite way: lightly dusted with a mixture of flour, salt, and a pinch of cayenne pepper and then fried in a touch of olive oil in a skillet (2-3 minutes per side).  Don’t forget a nice squirt of lemon over the top.

Lightly dust with flour, salt, and cayenne pepper. Shake excess off.


Cook for about 3 minutes per side. Be careful not to overcook.


Enjoy sardines the day you buy them, because you don't know when you'll see them again.


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