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Fresh sardine, herring, other sustainable small fish. Recipes needed.

Mark Bittman had an article about cooking sustainable fish, in particular sardines, herring, mackerel etc.

Here is the article:


I would like to try some of these fish, but don't have any experience with them. Does anybody have any simple recipes?

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  1. If they really are fresh, they are great just breaded an deep fried, with lemon wedges, of course.

    1. Another was is to dredge them in seasoned flour and pan fry them in a little EVOO. Yes, and serve with the lemon wedges.... You could also grill them plain on an indoor grill pan. Either way.... simply delicious.

      1. Sardines: Fry with onions, garlic and lemon zest in olive oil. Toss with cooked pasta. Finish with parsley, salt and pepper.

        Herring I tend to eat kippered or pickled. Mackerel I don't normally like.

        1. I love drizzling sardines with a smashed garlic-olive oil mix then grill over live charcoal. Turn a few times as the olive and fish oils mingle and flare up, charring the skin a bit. Also good with small mackerel.
          Make a few extra for the following breakfast...

          1. Don't do much herring or mackerel, but we get a fair number of sardines and anchovies around here. Ditto on the pan-fried or grilled recipes. You can fillet the fish or cook them whole.

            Another option is to "cook" fillets in vinegar. Cover the fish in white wine vinegar and let stand for 4 hours or so. Rinse, sprinkle with garlic, parsley, and chile flakes, cover with olive oil, and let stand for another 2 hours or so. Serve on crusty bread. Yum.

            3 Replies
            1. re: alanbarnes

              Cooking fish in vinegar is also popular in the Philippines where the method is known as paksiw. Essentially fish is poached in white vinegar flavored with garlic cloves, ginger, pepper and chili. My grandmother did occasionally eat mackerel prepared in this simple, but flavorful manner, however I always found the dish too fishy for my tastes.

              1. re: JungMann

                The "cooking" I was talking about doesn't actually involve heat (hence the quote marks); the acid in the vinegar oxidizes the fish. It's like ceviche. Maybe that makes things less fishy?

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  european cuisines refer to it as escabeche.

            2. Sardines are simple, easy, exquisite...butterfly, season with salt and pepper, lightly dredge in flour, fry with butter, et voila!

              1. Lucky you if you can get them. When I get sardines, I gently remove the head. If you do it gently you will remove the intestines as well.

                A quick splash of olive oil, S&P, and a few minutes on the grill and they are wonderful. Also work well with robust sauces.

                2 Replies
                1. re: JudiAU

                  Well...I guess I am not sure if I can get sardines yet. I live in Philadelphia and was going to go out searching Friday...

                  1. re: megmosa

                    Fresh sardines are sometimes hard to get. Greek, Portuguese, or Spanish fish stores sometimes have 'em.
                    You can always get a 2lb bag in the frozen section at many grocery stores.

                2. There is absolutely nothing in the article about "how" to cook these fish.

                  1. Sardines: Clean, gut, but leave head and tail. In a baking dish layer sea salt, sardines, sea salt, sardines, sea salt and leave for 1 hour. Rinse off salt and dry, then throw on grill (no oil necessary). Grill 3-4 min per side. Eat with hands. Yum.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ARenko

                      I do what ARenko does, but add a bit of olive oil and lemon after the rinse - however, with sardines I also love mario batali's sardines aguadolce recipe on www.foodnetwork.com. when i make sardines "plain grilled" I serve with a parsley and lemon salad, which seems the perfect accompaniment.

                    2. Bumping this thread! I would retitle, it perhaps...or not...anyway...

                      Small fish! Please, everyone, share your insights, recipes, funny stories...and if you happen to live in NYC, best sources...I happen to know that Fishtales in Carroll Gardens will get you pretty much anything you want, as long as you let them know in advance, although I haven't taken advantage of this feature yet...

                      Anyway, should all be eating more of these small fish, for health and for pleasure!

                      I should note that I'm not only looking for simple recipes--I'm OK with upping the ante.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: treestonerivershrub

                        Maybe not quite in the "funny story" category, but...
                        I like grilled sardines (seems not many North Americans do). I ordered some as an app at a portuguese (or was it Spanish?) place a few years back. They grilled it whole (which I prefer).
                        When opening the belly, looking for egg sacs, I noticed the stomach engorged with tiny, tiny shrimp. I showed mrs. porker, scooping them out and eating; semi-digested, krill-like shrimp.
                        It was tasty.
                        She was disgusted.
                        I never seen such a thing again.

                        1. re: porker

                          That's happened in our kitchen too, Porker. While cleaning a freshly caught 3 pound haddock one Summer I found small minnow-like fish in the stomach. A wondrous thing to see. And no, I didn't eat them. I'm not sure I'd eat the shrimp either... (But we do like grilled sardines.)

                          1. re: Gio

                            I find minnows and crawfish in the stomachs of bass and walleye I catch. The tiny shrimp was an oddity for me.

                          2. re: porker

                            Oh my goodness, I've never seen that before! You're quite an adventurous eater! Sounds like something that is a delicacy somewhere in the world...

                          3. re: treestonerivershrub

                            I was fishing in Belize a few years ago. We started out by hand casting for baitfish (they call them sardines, but I think they were small pilchard), caught some fish by the reef, then pulled into shore for lunch.
                            While preparing the lunch, I told the guy I wanted to eat some grilled sardines and threw some baitfish on the grill. He thought I was crazy "Never saw anybody eat SARDINES before".

                          4. For sardines and mackerel, I love them grilled simply with salt, pepper and olive oil. The trick is finding them fresh. Daniel Boulud in his Cafe Boulud cookbook also has a wonderful recipe for a sardine terriine. I've done this several times when I can find fresh sardines.

                            Here is a link to it from the food network


                            2 Replies
                            1. re: mike0989

                              I was in FLA a few months back and among other species, caught some spanish mackerel.
                              I ate one of those raw at the dock - it was fantastic.

                              1. re: porker

                                Hey, I'm with you there. Spanish Mackerel is one of my favorite orders at a sushi bar.

                            2. This thread brings to mind a Cornish recipe called "Stargazy Pie." It calls for Cornish sardines which are really large sardines called Pilchard. The fish is set into the pie with the heads above the crust as if gazing skyward. I've never had it but would like to... here's a recipe:


                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Gio

                                That looks great!
                                I'll have to give it a go sometime.

                              2. check out
                                reviews of canned sardines.

                                i have found fresh sardines at NYMart in Sunrise Florida
                                and at Presidente supermarket in Hollywood, Florida

                                i found this link also for sardine recipes on a previous post of mine

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: jpr54_1

                                  Somewhat dated, but still interesting, rworange gives a review of quite a few brands as well;

                                2. Does anyone know if gutting is absolutely necessary? I have seen people not gut them and then deep fry or grill them briefly, but no one has ever talked about the safety issues of not cleaning out the insides of sardines and other small smelt fish.

                                  I would think that leaving the heads on is just fine and frying them to crispy would make the bones super crispy too so you could eat the ENTIRE fish head and all, but I am still not sure about eating the innards as well. Thanks!

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: rcbaughn

                                    i eat the whole thing. they are so low on the food chain, it's not like you're gonna find a license plate or rubber tire in there. :)

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      Might I ask if you are Asian? I ask this because I find that most Asian cultures tend to eat whole small fish and even larger fish whole, unlike most Europeans and Americans.

                                      I love offal of all types and especially the robust flavors they all offer, so I can imagine that the briny flavor you would get from eating a small smelt type fish whole is something that I would love. Do you deep fry, pan sear, or grill them usually? Figure that would have a deep impact on the texture of the organs and heads.

                                      Oh, BTW, do you remove the eyes though? I read somewhere as well that if you don't you'll eat the lens which is impossible to chew and feels like a small pebble in your mouth. Definitely not something I'd want to contend with!

                                      I am excited to hear that the insides are indeed edible and possibly I'm going to like it very much! I am adamant about not wasting anything from any animal. If they give me their life so I can eat, I should use as much as I can off the little guys!

                                      1. re: rcbaughn

                                        You do not need to gut small smelt, whitebait and the like. The flavor of their tiny organs is negligible and the soft bones will be no problem. Bigger smelt might want a squeeze of lemon to cut through the sometimes greasy taste of organ meat. Oily fish and anything bigger than my hand I'd prefer to gut.

                                        With respect to the eyes, you do not need to remove the lens. If the fish is deep fried, the lens dehydrates and in smaller fish will take on the texture of a very crisp popcorn kernel. In larger fish, or in fish cooked by other methods, you can suck the rich juices from the eyes and treat the lens as you would a fish bone by putting it to the side.

                                        1. re: rcbaughn

                                          It's common in Europe to do an early summer fish fry with small fry, and they're eaten whole.

                                      2. re: rcbaughn

                                        I grill sardines whole (helps keep them from drying out), but gut and de-bone on the plate. I do eat the egg sacs when they're there.
                                        I buy dressed (cleaned) smelts - they come gutted with no head. If they're small (~<3"), I eat bones & all when fried. The larger ones have stronger bones which I leave on the plate.
                                        Depending on brand, canned sardines sometimes come with the guts but no head. I eat everything.
                                        I often see fried, whole fish at Chinese dim sum. Some people call them smelts, some call them anchovies, but I'm not sure they're either. They're small, about two inches, and you eat them whole, head, guts, eyes, scales.

                                        Its whatever you're comfortable with - generally the smaller the fish, the softer the bones, easier to eat whole.
                                        However, I once had walleye done 3 ways in a Chinese restaurant. The meat was done in 2 plates; a saucy sauteed dish and a deep fried prep. For the 3rd, the bones were rough chopped and deep fried until very crispy. It was kinda like eating pork cracklin and tasty.

                                        1. re: porker

                                          There was something like that on seriouseats.com a good while back. Fried fish bones would be tasty I guarantee because you can think about how good a catfish tail is after the whole thing has been deep fried to crispiness, so having a whole plate of something similar would be amazing I bet. I can imagine that grilling would crisp them up nicely too. And gutting and deboning after grilling seems like a great idea. The insides would kind of season the inside with that intense flavor, but you wouldn't actually be getting those textures in the final dish. And removing the heads would take care of the eyes and all since I bet they don't get cooked that much since they probably aren't in direct contact.

                                          You wanna know what is sad though? I went back to the asian market in B'ham to get the bag of smelt since I was so inspired by all of this and the damn things had either sold out or had to be chunked due to expiration. I was sick to my stomach, I wanted them so bad. I enjoy the taste of the cloudy and spicy vietnamese fish sauce in bottles so I can imagine I would've love that intense flavor of the guts and all. Sigh. Maybe soon.