Feel the Love — When It Comes to Sardines

Are you a sardine lover or hater?

Sardines suffer from a bad rep for the most part.

So many of us have stinky memories of those tiny, pungent fish lurking inside pull-tab tins that our parents or grand-parents forced upon us.

But I’m here to plead with you to give sardines a chance.

At a time when so many other seafood species are on the verge of extinction, sardines are one of the most sustainable fish around. They’re super cheap, and loaded with good-for-you omega-3s, too.

That’s why a local group, whimsically named the “Sardinistas,” is waging a campaign to get you and me to better appreciate this much-maligned fish. Find out more about this group by reading my story in the November issue of San Francisco magazine.

Bay Area chefs already have courted a love affair with sardines. Find fresh ones grilled on many a menu here, their flesh silky and smoky tasting.

Fresh sardines aren’t always easy to come by at local fish markets, though, because the majority caught in Monterey Bay are exported elsewhere.

But canned ones are easily found at any supermarket.

Not only are there sardines in this dish, but anchovies, too.

And even die-hard sardine haters are sure to love them in “Fish Cakes with Caper-Parsley Sauce.”

The recipe, adapted from one published in Gourmet magazine seven years ago, actually has three types of fish in it. And two of them are despised by a good number of folks. Yes, one is the sardine. The other? Anchovy.

But hear me out before you pass judgment.

Although the recipe calls for three canned sardines, I used the entire can, just for good measure. The sardines are chopped up and mixed with flaked, fresh halibut, along with copious amounts of green onion, lemon, parsley and bread crumbs. The mixture gets formed into round cakes that are seared until crispy. They’re served with a punchy sauce of pureed capers, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, and — yes — anchovies.

The result is a really flavorful, much more complex fish cake  — that doesn’t taste “fishy” at all — with a sauce so wonderfully tangy, salty, and assertive that you’ll want to drizzle it on and on.

Serve it as a first course, light lunch, or dinner with salad and crusty bread. Indeed, the fish cake and sauce would make one mighty fine sandwich, too.

There you have it: Three types of sustainable fish in one dish that’s sure to do a body good.

Fish Cakes with Caper-Parsley Sauce

(makes 6)

1 pound 1-inch-thick halibut fillets

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped green onions

1 (4.375-ounce) tin of skinless, boneless sardines packed in oil, drained and chopped

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

2 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread, divided use

1 to 2 large eggs

Caper-Parsley Sauce (recipe follows)

Sprinkle halibut fillets with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add halibut fillets and saute until just opaque in center, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to plate; cool. Wipe skillet with paper towels.

Flake halibut fillets into large bowl. Mix in green onions, sardines, chopped fresh parsley, flour, garlic and lemon peel. Mix in 1 cup breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper; mix in one egg. If mixture doesn’t seem to be holding together when you try to form a cake, mix in one more egg. Shape mixture into six 3-inch-diameter cakes. Transfer remaining 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs to a bowl. Coat fish cakes with breadcrumbs, pressing to adhere.

Heat remaining 4 tablespoons oil in reserved skillet over medium-high heat. Add fish cakes and cook until brown and crisp, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer to plates; serve fish cakes with Caper-Parsley Sauce.

Adapted from Gourmet, March 2002

Caper-Parsley Sauce

(Makes about 1 1/3 cups)

2/3 cup olive oil

6 tablespoons drained capers

6 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

6 anchovy fillets, chopped

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 large garlic cloves, halved

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until a coarse puree forms. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

Note: The sauce also can be used on roast beef, hard-boiled eggs or potato salad.

From Bon Appetit, February 2002

More: Try another strong-tasting, sustainable fish — salted mackerel — in Steamed Pork Cake (hom yu jing jiu yok bang)

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  • Healthy and delicious fish cakes! I love that kind of dish…



  • Definitely a sardine lover. Those canned ones were a staple in my house, growing up. And certainly sardine presentations have grown up as well. I recall a few dishes utilizing sardines in delicious ways, at the Carmel Tomatofest last year.

  • Sardines rule. When I see them fresh at the market, I always pick up a few. If they’re on a menu, I order them. The recipes look great, by the way, love the flavor elements in there!

  • I’m not sure I am quite the sardine lover, but when I was a teenager visiting France my host family made me sardines on the grill and it completely changed how I thought about them. They were nothing like what I imagined.

    I am a anchovy fan though. I love making a simple pasta dish with caramelized onions and anchovies where they practically melt in the pan and create a sauce. Yum.

  • Recipe looks great! I love the look of the caper-parsley sauce. I’ll have to try it.
    I love sardines and anchovies.

  • I love sardines! It’s funny because I was just telling some of my coworkers about my love of sardines and encouraging them to give them a try. They really are such a wonderful snack. I love a few of them over a nice watercress salad with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh lemon juice.

  • I started eating fresh sardines more after they started popping up at restaurants’ menus. I think they’re great and like that they’re a nice substitute for salmon because it’s so hard to find fresh wild salmon these days. I usually can find sardines at the fish market at Rockridge’s Market Hall.

  • Sardines are hard to swallow…very hard. If you can whip them up in a dish that doesn’t taste like sardines, then it’s worth a try. 🙂

  • Funny how you write about them. I was at Smart & Final and picked up a can of “skinless and boneless”. I used to eat them, but could NOT handle the bones! Will have to try the recipe.

  • I don’t mind sardines or anchovies, but I don’t think to use either of them very often. This fish cake looks like a great solution for that!

  • I turned to liking canned sardines (in spring water/ olive oil) only recently. OH my, I use garlic, onion and tomato as a gravy-base then spices such as cumin, and turmeric and down goes the sardines and voila, they are so nice with soft noodles. Such yum!

  • Yesssss! Let’s hear it for the sardine! Monterey Bay Aquarium gives them a green light for sustainable seafood. If we don’t eat them plain with rice or tofu, I like them smashed up in hot pasta with crunchy buttery fresh bread crumbs and lots of fresh parsley. and Trader Joe’s tinned sardines in olive oil are really good. Fresh are nothing like the canned. I see them at Whole Foods’ fish counter occasionally. Usually have to ask the fishmonger to look in the back, though. But beware – sometimes their turnover is poor and they aren’t so fresh. Only buy if the eyes are clear and protrude outwards. No sunken, cloudy eyeballs!

  • As a puttanesca lover, anchovies rate high on my favorites list. Often they are the perfect “secret ingredient” in a sauce that people who “hate” anchovies will rave about. This looks like another winner from Food Gal!

  • I’ve learned to, while not love sardines, certainly enjoy the, The Turkish restaurant on Clement, Toyka, i think has an incredible sardine appetizer, and this is coming from a non-sardine lover. However, I must say, your recipe sounds delish.

  • OysterCulture: Pray tell what is the Tokya sardine appetizer like? You have me intrigued.

  • I love sardines, but the rest of my family not so much. But I may give these a try anyway; I love all the flavors in the cakes and the sauce, and I think they may enjoy it too (even with the sardines and anchovies)…. 😉

  • Interesting! I just heard someone on the radio talking about how they eat sardines for lunch all the time. Maybe sardines are making a comeback! I’ve never had one before.

  • Canned sardines in oil with chilies from Morocco is my favorite. They’re great with warm steam rice on a lazy evening.

  • Wow! Yum!

    Welcome to the Society.

  • Jonny Hamachi — that cannot be your real name, can it? If it is, I love it! 😉

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