Recipes for Pacific Sardine

Ken Jones

Staff member
McClane’ s Fish Buyer’s Guide: Pacific Sardine — (A) Flavor: intense or robust (B) Texture: soft (C) Flake: fine (D) Fat Content: high (E) Odor (Raw): moderate: (F) Color after Cooking: off white (G) Cooking Methods: broil or bake

Posted by Ken Jones

Pacific Sardine are a fish that I have caught from the most southern pier in California, Imperial Beach, to the state's northernmost pier in Crescent City. When present, they're usually in big schools and can be caught on Sabiki-like bait rigs four at a time and coolers can be filled for bait and food. In many ways they are similar to large schools of herring. However, while sardines can cover most of the California coastline, herring are primarily found to the north. In addition, sardines can show at almost any time of the year while herring are more seasonal, generally entering estuary areas and bays in the winter months to spawn. A difference though (at least to some degree) is the tremendous fluctuation in the numbers of sardines over the years, an up and down cycle that often sees sardine numbers go down while anchovy numbers go up and then sardine numbers go up while anchovy numbers go down. At certain water temperatures less of the small fry make it to adulthood (for a variety of reasons) and if the number is already low due to over fishing, there can be a huge decrease in their population. The collapse of the commercial sardine fishery in the '40s, a fishery that had been California's largest, is one of the most famous stories in fishery biology. At first it was blamed solely on over fishing, today we know it was over fishing combined with a change in water temperatures. But that collapse was real and for many years you rarely saw a sardine. I began fishing California's piers in the late '50s but never caught a sardine from a pier until 1990 and even then did not start to catrch large numbers until 1994. Since then I have caught them virtually every year (with peak years being 2002 and 2009) although a decrease in numbers was reported again around 2010. Today they seem to be showing up at the piers again but who knows for how long?

Even if most of the sardines caught are used for bait (live bait or frozen bait) there are almost always more than needed which means some may be destined for the dinner table. But what are the best ways to prepare and eat them? Herein a few ideas.

Posted by blahblahblah on September 18, 2003

Sardines are one of my favorite things to eat. Those of you who won't "eat bait" may take exception, which is fine. Kindly return your sardines to the water for those of us with more sense. A few years back I had grilled sardines at a restaurant off Union Square in San Francisco and they were so good I wanted to swear I'd never eat anything else again. This recipe includes the distinctively Sicilian ingredient of raisins. I find the raisins a little weird, but if you leave them out you might want to slightly reduce some of the saltier ingredients such as capers and olives and anchovies. Make sure the sardines are fresh, fresh, fresh. They spoil quickly.

"*Sarde Ripene al Forno* — Stuffed Baked Sardines


• 3 pounds fresh sardines
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 1 cup bread crumbs
• 2 tablespoons capers [the salted ones are best, but be sure to rinse them well]
• 2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
• 1/2 cup pitted black olives, sliced
• handful chopped parsley [the flat kind if you can get it]
• 1/2 cup pine nuts
• 1/2 cup raisins
• 1 can anchovies [there is some debate over whether those packed in oil or those packed in salt are best. I prefer the ones in oil, but do get the ones that are laid flat in the can, regardless]
• 2-3 crumbled bay leaves [don't leave big pieces — they're nasty surprises that hurt when swallowed]
• juice of 1 lemon


• Clean fish and remove head and fins. Split in half and remove backbone. Wash in salt water and dry on paper towels. Set aside.
• Add bread crumbs to heated pan with half the olive oil and stir until they begin to brown. Add capers, garlic, olives, parsley, pine nuts, raisins, and anchovies. Mix well. Stir-fry 5 minutes and remove from heat.
• Spread some of the mixture on each sardine. The roll the sardines up from neck to tail and fasten with toothpicks so that tails stick up in the air. Put remaining olive oil in baking dish and place sardines in rows. Do not piggy-back. [Also best not to crowd them too much] Sprinkle bits of bay leaves, some dry bread crumbs, and a bit of olive oil over the fish and bake 25-30 minutes in a preheated oven of 375 [degrees]. Serve with a little lemon juice squeezed on top.
Serves 4-6."
From: The Sicilian Gentleman's Cookbook," by Don Baratta, Prima Publishing, 1988.

Posted by mrtuna

A couple weeks ago I ran into a school of horse sardines and could have caught a cooler full. I caught a few and took them home. They were great fried in olive oil and topped with a sauce with garlic and hot peppers. Yum! I like fishing just for the Halibut! -----<'###{

Posted by Riorust

I have always loved the canned variety. I recently caught 150-200 sardines for bait. I keep my bait on ice as a rule and did so this day. After brining and packing 100 or so "dines," I looked at the rest and thought about dinner. I cleaned the remaining sardines (heads, guts and tails), patted them dry, breaded with flour, sea salt and fresh pepper and fried in olive oil. All I can say is, they are nothing like the canned griesling sardines...the fresh guys are great, asking only for some lime juice or Tapatio sauce. Served with salad, some mango salsa and an ice cold adult beverage....hard to beat! Location: Head in the clouds, eyes on the horizon.

Posted by eelmaster

Fresh sardines are crazy good. salted with kosher salt and grilled over a hot grill.
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Well-Known Member
Guess I'll contribute something, given the obscene number of sardines I've been catching recently.
This probably isn't worth it for most people, and it's a lot of work for relatively little payoff, especially if you're like me and end up with too many on any given day. I suggest doing each step on all of the fish before moving onto the next.

Butterflied sardines:

Butter knife
Kitchen shears
Kitchen towel
Cutting board
*Option 2: Fillet knife*

Step 0(?): Catch the sardines and put them in a saltwater-ice brine immediately. They will stiffen up and be a little easier to deal with at home, and will remain fresh for up to 12 hours assuming the brine stays ice cold.

Step 1: Scale the sardines, starting off with the serrated side of the butter knife facing downwards. Scrape very gently, as to prevent the skin or the gut cavity from tearing. After you get as many scales off as you feel comfortable with minimal damage, wipe each sardine thoroughly with the kitchen towel, which should remove any residual scales and slime. You can also scrape up the side of the fish with your thumbnail, but you risk accidentally digging into the flesh.

Step 2: Head and gut the sardines by cutting through the back just behind the head, making sure to cut through the spine, then turn the shears 90 degrees towards the tail, and cut along the ribcage, parallel to the spine along both sides of the gut cavity all the way to the vent in order to remove the belly keel, pelvic fins, and the organs.

Step 3: Fillet the sardines. Yes, sounds absurd for such a small fish, but it is possible, and with some practice, fairly easy, and makes for a much more pleasant eating experience than crunching down on fish spine.

Method 1: Tricky but minimal knifework and deboning afterwards. Lay the fish belly-up and cut off the anal fin and the tail, then grab the exposed portion of the spine in the front half of the fish. Using the other hand, press from what was once the fish's belly downwards towards the cutting board, and pull up on the spine, while continuing to apply gentle pressure. With some effort, the spine should come free of the flesh, and take with it most of the ribs. As you pull more of the spine, work your fingers down to where the bone is being pulled out, and continue to hold the flesh on both sides until the spine is free from the fish. Wipe off any blood and pat dry.

Method 2: Requires a razor sharp knife, but less risk of smashing/losing flesh. Lay the fish belly-up and cut off the anal fin and the tail, then cut along the ribs on both sides with shears to free them from the backbone. Using only the tip of the fillet knife, follow along each side of the spine from the belly downwards, until you can grab and peel out the bones, making sure not to puncture the skin along the back. Then shave the ribs off each side of the butterfly fillet. Wipe off any blood and pat dry.

Step 4: Finish cleaning up the fillets by pulling out the dorsal fin from above, holding down the flesh on either side to prevent tearing. Pull off any residual ribs and misc. large bones on the flesh side. Now they are recipe ready.

Alternative lazy man's method:

Kitchen shears
Tweezers or needlenose pliers

Step 0: Same as above

Step 1: Clean the sardines as described in step 2 for the above method, but don't bother scaling it first.

Step 2: Grip the skin at the edge of the cut at the very top of the fish, and peel back, scales and all, all the way back and over the tail. Tweezers or needlenose pliers may make it easier to get a good grip. Pull any ribs, wipe off any blood, and pat dry.

Step 3: Done lol.

My personal favorite way to eat sardines is to dredge them lightly in potato starch (can be found in the international section) and fry gently in a neutral oil, flipping when each side takes on a little color and crisps up. Sprinkle with salt and squeeze over some lemon/lime juice or serve with soy sauce, and enjoy hot. Granted you may burn more calories cleaning them than you gain from actually eating them, but it's all about the experience isn't it?