I love sardines. ergo this recipe for crumbed fennel & lemon zest sardines.

Sardines are totally under-estimated. Yes they’re tiny and somewhat smelly pre-cooked, but cook them right and you have yourself a hearty and highly nutritious meal with intense flavour. They taste like the sea. And because they’re an oily fish, they can take hearty, robust, zingy spices and sauces.

me sardines, with heads on

They’re also super good for heart health, skin, joints, memory – the whole body really – as they’re high in omega 3 fatty acids (higher than most other fish in the sea, in fact). And they’re low in mercury – much lower than their bigger and less-smelly-when-raw counterparts. They are inexpensive too (you can pick up a kilo for $4). AND, they’re sustainable because they breed like rabbits and are fished using a more sustainable fishing method.

Sardines aren’t so popular here in Australia, but are much coveted in Europe (and we all know they have the whole eating thing pretty right over there).

Anyway, here’s one of my favourite ways of cooking up sardines. You can alter the recipe to include any spices you like (chilli flakes would be great), and if you’re gluten-free, you can use polenta to crumb instead of sourdough...

Crumbed fennel & lemon zest sardines

serves 2-3

8 fresh sardines, gutted, rinsed and butterflied*
3 handfuls fresh sourdough breadcrumbs (or fine polenta if gluten intolerant)
1 tablespoon freshly ground fennel (I use whole seeds and grind roughly in a mortar and pestle)
zest of 1 lemon, plus a wedge or two of lemon for serving
salt, to taste
1 free range or organic egg
extra virgin olive oil

  1. Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In another bowl, pour in the breadcrumbs (or polenta), ground fennel, lemon zest and salt, and stir to combine.
  3. Dip each sardine first in the beaten egg and then in the crumb mix. Lay out on a board or plate ready for frying.
  4. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat, add sardines and fry each side until golden and crispy (about 3 minutes each side). Sardines cook through in no time at all.

I like to eat these with steamed greens and a squeeze of lemon, but they’d also go well with a crisp fennel and orange salad, or a simple tomato and basil salad.

* I like to keep the bones in my sardines because they give an extra hit of calcium and are nice n’ crunchy when cooked through. To butterfly, you simply open the sardine out skin side up on a board and press down firmly to flatten. You can chop the head off if you like. If you’re not keen on the bones, check out this little video http://www.channel4.com/programmes/cookery-school/articles/how-to-butterfly-sardines-video showing you how to fillet.

Tell me, are you a sardine convert? If so, what’s your favourite way of cooking them?

P.S I haven't had more than a spare 10 minutes to read How Much is Enough over the past few weeks! But rest assured the virtual book club is still going - albeit if you're three weeks ahead of me!


  1. I love sardines and can't wait to try this recipe. I usually just put them under the griller with lemon, live oil and salt.

  2. I love sardines too! I like baking them in the oven drizzled with olive oil, oregano, lemon and salt and pepper. Serve with a big green salad and sourdough bread. Maybe with a class of white wine :)

  3. Tnx fore the information
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