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What to do with tinned sardines?

I'll confess - I am not a fish lover. But I try to eat fish when I can stand to, though it's mostly mild whitefish or canned tuna (sorry!), just for the health benefits, especially now that my cholesterol is creeping up year on year. Someone suggested I buy tinned sardines, that they are versatile and the flavor enhances rather than dominates a lot of dishes. But I don't know what to do with them!

Firstly, what, literally, to do with the tiny fish. Do you eat every bit of it or are there parts you're supposed to chop off or cut out (guts, etc.)?

Second, what to do with it in terms of recipes/meals - recipes where the flavor would compliment whatever else I'm eating with it. I'm open to just about anything but generally keep a Mediterrean-stocked kitchen as opposed to, say, Asian or Southwestern or whatever, so any Med-region recipes or uses are apprecited.

How can I learn to love and eat these easily and regularly?

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  1. I would throw them out but my husband would kill me, he loves them. He eats them happily right out of the tins as a snack, sometimes on a cracker, sometimes not.

    He uses them like anchovies in a salad and then uses the oil as dressing. He adds a layer to sandwiches.

    Since I am the predominant cook in the family I don't know any recipes other than I occasionally add them to his side of pizza, or include them on an antipasto platter. I have made a sardine dip before sour cream, cream cheese, scallions, dill and a dash of not sauce. Nasty stuff but he loved it

    1. I like them on a slice of crusty bread or toasted black bread, with spicy mustard and a small squeeze of fresh lemon.

      Here are more ways to use them...

      1. I just make a sandwich on good bread with homemade mustard sauce, accompanied by a beer. The fish should already be cleaned — no head or guts. If they come with tails (mine do) you can eat them or cut them off, as you prefer.

        1 Reply
        1. re: GH1618

          I just checked my Riga sprats, since I'm making my traditional Friday night sardine sandwich. These are definitely cleaned of entrails.

        2. I drizzle with lemon juice and eat them on toast. They're already gutted. Whether you eat the skin and tiny bones, or not, is up to you. When I had a cat, I would give the skin and bones to her.

          When I visited Barbados, my friend's relatives made sardine 'pizzas', with English muffins, sardines and old Cheddar, iirc.

          How do you eat tinned sardines thread:

          Need recipes for canned sardines thread:

          some other ideas: http://www.thekitchn.com/what-are-som...

          4 Replies
          1. re: prima

            Not all are gutted.
            The guts, like the skin and bones, are optional to eat. I eat 'em.
            I think some people are encouraged to eat the bones for their calcium content.

            1. re: porker

              Really? Ok. I learn something new every day. ;-) I've only seen/eaten canned sardines that have been gutted.

              I've accidentally eaten fresh sardine guts in Greece, when I haven't cleaned my sardines well enough (for my taste), and sardine guts have a distinctively bitter taste (an unpleasant taste for me).

              1. re: prima

                Fresh sardine guts are indeed bitter (don't like either). Canned guts taste pretty much like the rest of the fish (don't mind eating).

                I like opening the body cavity of grilled sardines, sometimes you get the prize of roe sacks. Once, in a Greek joint, the grilled sardine belly was chock full of tiny shrimp. I ate them up with gusto. Mrs. Porker was repulsed....

                1. re: porker

                  Sort of like a sardine pinata or a Kinder Sardine! Glad you enjoyed. I'm not sure I'd be repulsed, but I don't think I'd partake.

          2. thanks all, you guys are the best.

            1. James Beard loved tinned sardines and put four recipes in Beard on Food.

                1. re: ritabwh

                  Sardines and pasta were a huge revelation to me. I like this recipe as well and I do not care for bread crumbs:


                  1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                    that looks good. i like the addition of the spinach.

                  2. re: ritabwh

                    yes, and Mark Bittman has a youtube video of this dish of sardines and pasta, pretty funny too! LOVE the lowly sardines...great with pasta and capers....great with lemon juice and whole grain crackers (RYVITA)...great for calcium intake too! Here's the link to the Bittman video:


                    1. re: Val

                      yeppers! the NYTImes link i provided above has the recipe as well as the video. as much as i complain abouttv chefs and as much as i like bittman, i wish he had a bit more of a camera presence.

                  3. there r different types
                    skinless and boneless

                    packed in oil, vegetable oil, olive oil
                    packed in water
                    packed in mustard sauce, tomato, etc.

                    this is a great blog

                    the chowhound links above r also very helpful

                    some ppl like to eat the whole sardine-others remove head and bones

                    add chiles, tomatoes, onions, etc lemons/limes vinegar
                    and spices of your choice


                    1 Reply
                    1. i like them smooshed up with mustard. then i make a crunchy salad of diced cukes, celery, radish, jicama, jalapeno, etc. and top with the sardines.

                      1. Generally I buy sardines packed in tomato sauce and cook them by caramelizing onions, garlic and tomatoes, seasoning with some chilies, pepper and bay leaf, adding my sardines and serving hot. They go well with a squeeze of lemon juice or some briny olives or capers. If you're using sardines packed in oil, you could go the tomato sauce route or an Italian route with pasta con le sarde.

                        Other ideas here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/774768

                        1. Great way to add salt to a dish without changing much of the flavor. Great in salad dressings (Caesar obviously as well as others) and I make a tapenade with them, olives, oil, parsley, garlic, pepper, and some capers. Cover a piece of fish like cod with the tapenade, some sliced tomatoes and onions and roast it. Easy delicious dinner

                          1. Talk about sardines always reminds me of this thread
                            a kind of definitive run-down on different brands

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: porker

                              Yes, I recall that. She did quite a lot of research for that project. Thanks for the link.

                              1. re: porker

                                I wouldn't say it's definitive, since it overlooks my sardine of choice: Riga Gold smoked sprats.

                              2. I learned to eat them in college, because they were cheap. My mother can't stand them for the same reason - apparantly they were a Depression-era staple in her family. I like Pasta al Sardo: pasta with a tomato and sardine sauce (I make a regular sauce with canned tomatoes, then add the contents of a can of sardines). Sometimes when I don't feel like cooking much I'll make an antipasto-type dish with lettuce, olives, pickled vegetables, cheese, and sardines.

                                If you decide you like them, and you manage to find whole, fresh sardines, they're good grilled. Outdoors - otherwise your kitchen will smell of sardines for days.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: tardigrade

                                  I love both canned and "fresh" (from frozen) on the grill, but to my surprise many people might like one but not the other.

                                  I agree with the outdoor grilling. I first did grilled sardines in the kitchen on a cast-iron griddle. I was banned for life by Mrs. Porker...

                                2. sorry - i'm a sardines purist. i eat 'em straight out of the can with some crackers

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: ahuva

                                    Yep, open the can, open the saltine crackers... eat. I prefer kippered snacks, though.

                                  2. alton brown is on a sardine kick - part of his diet... this looks easy enough and sounds good.


                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: sparky403

                                      I've made this recipe many times and like it very much. However finding a good sherry vinegar in most American supermarkets can be a bigger challenge than finding good tinned sardines.

                                      1. I LOVE tinned sardines!!! Whether plain in olive oil, or in sauces like tomato, hot sauce, mustard, etc.

                                        I often enjoy "sardine sandwiches" - drained sardines (the oil is always drizzled over some dry food for the kitties) lightly mashed (sometimes with a dab of mayo) & piled on lettuce-lined rolls or bread (toasted or not), along with a couple of thin slices of raw red onion. Heaven!

                                        It was one of my mother's favorite sandwiches, although thankfully she had the good sense to never send one to school with me - lol!!!

                                        Oh - & you eat the whole thing. The commercial sardines you find in the supermarket have all been scaled & gutted, & thanks to the way they're canned, the bones are soft, completely edible, & very good for you. A strong source of calcium to go along with the large amount of Omega 3 in the fish themselves.

                                        1. Drain a can of sardines in oil, mix with a good amount of finely diced cekery and onion, stir in a bit of mayo and some lemon or lime juice, and pile into the cavity of a Haas avocado. Lettuce and sliced tomato on the side, Yum

                                          1. I love sardines, have you tried the boneless & skinless ones? They can be used in place of tuna. I only eat mine with crackers and the occasional toast or light bread.

                                            1. I particularly like the Trader Joe's sardines in olive oil. In fact, my dinner tonight was those rolled up in some leftover corn tortillas with a squirt of sriracha!

                                              1. I've liked them a lot since I was 5 yrs old almost 50 yrs ago. Which, I've since learned, a lot of people think is weird. Get good ones. I like Tiny Tots, or better. Eat the whole thing. Oil too. I've honestly found that few things "go" with them, and most things taste bad with them. For me its them alone mostly, except for crackers, or not at all.

                                                1. If you live in an area with Japanese grocery stores, or other stores carrying Japanese food products, check out the amazing range of canned fish and seafood these places often sell. Japanese tinned fish goes way beyond sardines and tuna. The flavors go way beyond the typical western canned varieties as well. I've tried a lot of them, not always knowing quite what I was getting (a fish called saury, for example). But they've always been delicious. If you seen one called unagi, buy it for sure. It's eel fillets, usually in a teriyaki-like sauce. Unagi tends to be relatively expensive, though.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: emu48

                                                    Japanese sardines are very good, They are on the sweet side. They are just hard to find in my area.


                                                  2. Since it was Dad and us 3 kids since I was about 8... plus his parents... have been pretty kitchen savy since. Would pack Dad's lunch MANY times for his shift at an oil refinery in SE PA. One of his regulars was sardines in mustard sauce. Didn't like them as a kid but liked the mustard idea, MANY years later, bought a can... maybe taste had changed?? NOT!?!

                                                    1. A tin of good sardines, some sliced white onions, good mayo and sliced bread make up one of my favorite sandwiches, accompanied by a bottle of Abita beer.

                                                      1. rockandroller1
                                                        Check out my post on Chow:


                                                        I made these 3 or 4 times each for the story -and have made them quite often since!

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: helmut fig newton

                                                          ooooh...looks very good helmut...the sardine-dill cakes look most appealing to me...and someone made a comment about mixing the 'dines with dill pickle and putting it over rice...nom nom nom...also sounds great! Thanks!