Sarde in Saor (Venetian Style Sardines)

The humble Sardine is named after the Sardinian island where the sardine is found in abundance. Sardines are a superfood, they are not promoted as such because they are not deemed to be sexy, but they are packed with nutrients. Sardines, are a small, sleek and silvery sea fish, one of the few foods that contain Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which is a natural nutrient found in the body’s cells. As well as CoQ10, they contain vitamin B12, Vitamin D, selenium, omega-3 oils, phosphorous and protein. Fresh sardines are very popular in the Mediterranean diet and on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, tourists consume fresh sardines grilled over the heat from a volcanic vent.

This beautiful blue fresh fish with a tinge of silver is revered all over the Mediterranean, the Spanish have a celebratory day to celebrate the Sardine. It can be found all over the Mediterranean on the beaches, five or six fresh sardines on a stick and chargrilled over a wooden fire. From Almeria to Gibraltar the prevailing smell on the beaches from June to October is the smell of the fresh sardines being cooked.

They are incredibly easy to fillet and use fresh as the taste is far superior to the canned variety, but because they are oily they are delicious when cooked over an open fire. To gut them turn the fish over in your hand so that the stomach the flesh part on the underside of the fish is near you. Poke your thumb through (there is no need to use any utensils for this, they are very soft). Work your thumb along the whole length of the stomach and open up, and pull out the stomach and entrail contents and discard. Wash the fish and the job is done. You should be able to fillet a kilo of sardines in less than ten minutes.

As nice as the fresh sardine is and for me they do taste better fresh, but it does not stop me eating the canned variety. They make a great breakfast on toasted wholemeal bread with freshly grilled tomatoes and lashings of black pepper and a little chilli oil drizzled over the top. The fact is that tinned sardines are cheap and extremely nutritious and they should not be hidden at the back of the store cupboard, to be taken out when unexpected and unwanted guests arrive.

The sardine recipe below is typical of Venetian cuisine, but the Sardinians and Sicilians and the Spanish have a similar dish influenced by the Moors. They add a tough of chilli and also golden raisins which become plump and delicious overnight. it is called escabeche or pickled fish and it best eaten at room temperature the day after preparing.


For the marinade

1 tablespoon olive oi

300g/10 1/2 oz onions, finely sliced

10 tablespoons red balsamic vinegar instead

100g/3 1/2 oz sugar

pinch of saffron strands

For the sardines

1kg/2lb 3oz very fresh sardines, cleaned, gutted and scaled

kosher salt, to taste

plain flour, for dusting

olive oil, for shallow frying

To serve

lemon wedges

chopped fresh parsley


For the marinade, heat the oil in a pan and saute the onions until softened. Transfer the onions to a large bowl and mix with all the remaining marinade ingredients. Set aside.

For the sardines, lay the sardines on a floured board and sprinkle with salt. Shallow fry the sardines until golden in olive oil. Place the sardines into the bowl with the marinade and stir gently to coat the fish, but not break them.

Although this dish can be eaten immediately it is better the day after, because by then the sardine recipe has had time to absorb all the flavours.

Italian food is simple elegant and fabulous, it makes the most of the freshest ingredients. Italians don’t ask how much food is they ask how fresh it is. The concept of a weekly shop is alien to them, their fruit and vegetables are bought every day. The fantastic thing about Italian food is the fact that they have no such thing; Italy was a separate conglomeration of states until 1870.

Each area has its own cuisine and that cuisine has been forged by Centuries of geographical area and history. For instance the food in the North West bears a closer relationship to mid European food because it was influenced by its neighbour the Austro- Hungarian empire. In the South the flavours of the Mediterranean prevail, the olive oils, the fresh and dried fruit influenced by the Moors, the tomatoes brought from the New World.