Baked stuffed sardines (called married sardines in Greece). Look at those little fish! They may look humble but they are pure perfection. Baked stuffed sardines. The simplicity in both ingredients and flavor is the star of the show. This recipe is a great place to start for those who aren’t huge sardine fans but they want to give them a chance. The stuffing grounds the bold fishy flavor so sardine taste isn’t too overwhelming. Recipe Bonus: It really doesn’t take much to put these together and it is ready to serve in 30 minutes.
As always this is a traditional Greek recipe called Σαρδέλες Παντρεμένες (=Married Sardines). Married! Do you get it? You need two sardine fillets to enclose the stuffing. Cute, isn’t it? There are of course delicious variations all over Greece mostly on stuffing. However, for this post, I preferred an easy stuffing with ingredients that most probably you have already available in your pantry. All you have to do is to find the sardines.
BAKED SARDINES? SAY WHAT?
Maybe you haven’t heard them before. Maybe you find the strong smell and the funny fishy taste revolting. Maybe you aren’t a huge fish lover after all. It is absolutely fine. This post is all about this tiny fish that most of you find canned in supermarkets, grocery stores, or delis. You usually ignore them. Please, don’t turn your back on them. There is a good reason.
Just give me 5 minutes to explain all about sardines and the reasons you need them on your plate and in your life. In the end, you will get a delicious and easy recipe that celebrates sardines. Don’t be afraid. You have nothing to lose.
RIGHT! WHY EAT THEM?
I am sure you know by now that eating fish is a huge chapter of the Mediterranean way of eating. To be more precise, fish should be consumed at least twice a week. So, keeping this guideline in mind, let’s find out more about sardines.
It is not an exaggeration to say that sardines are a nutritional goldmine. They are one of the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium & phosphorus, vitamin B12, selenium, (shall I continue? Ok!), and contain a high amount of protein. Yeap! All these goodies in this tiny fish.
Additionally, sardines are a safe choice to consume concerning heavy metal contamination. You know, this huge debate about sea contamination and whether we should eat fish. Sardines is your way to go because they contain less mercury and other heavy metals than larger fish because they are at the bottom of the ocean food chain.
Sustainable & budget-friendly
Sardines are abundant in the seas and that means that they are one of the most sustainable and affordable fish available. Did you know that they are not farmed? This means that you can enjoy wild-caught fish either fresh, frozen, or canned.
If you are on a budget and you are looking for healthy fish, canned sardines are usually a good way to go. Amazing nutrient-dense food at affordable prices. What more could you expect?
GREAT! WHERE TO BUY THEM?
I know it is hard to find fresh sardines. Alternatively, you may purchase frozen sardines and canned which is the easiest way to purchase them.
FRESH SARDINES? SERIOUSLY?
How to choose them
So, somehow you are in front of fresh sardines. Don’t be scared and run away. Approach as closely as you can. They should smell like the sea, look shiny, and with bright eyes. Don’t think twice. Grab them. You won’t regret it!
How to clean them
It isn’t the hardest thing to do but, boy, it can be so boring to clean all these little fish. In all honesty, this is the hardest and most time-consuming part of cooking fresh sardines. No worries! I got the solution to this small problem.
Ask someone else to do it for you (evil grin) and I mean the fishmonger (not your scared partner). Intestines should be thoroughly cleaned otherwise they leave an unpleasant bitterness to your final dish.
The rest of the cleaning process is up to you. If sardines are small enough you may cook and eat them whole, head and bones included. They are more nutritional like this because bones contain calcium and our body loves calcium. Did you know that sardines are an excellent non-dairy source of calcium? I told you, this fish is amazing!
However, if you are new to tasting sardines, you should probably follow the safest road and eat them without head and bones. Then when you see how tasteful they are, eat them like a pro, bones, and all.
FROZEN SARDINES. YES, PLEASE!
Frozen sardines provides an excellent alternative. They are pretty much as good as fresh and you usually find them cleaned waiting for you to pick them up in a nice package. They thaw quickly in a couple of hours depending on the room temperature and you are ready to go.
I have to admit that I’ve never tasted canned sardines before. I will never deceive you and pretend to be an expert in something I don’t have a clue. Never.
So, I did some research on them and I was amazed by the variety of flavors: sardines in tomato sauce, vegetables, Greek sauce, Italian, Spanish, Mediterranean, Japanese style, etc. To tell you the truth, I am a little bit skeptical about all these ingredients in the tin so I would suggest reading the labels first so that you avoid highly processed ingredients, additives, etc. You know, the stuff you have no idea what they are or even how to pronounce.
That being said, I would personally prefer to use sardines in olive oil (extra virgin olive oil if possible) or in pure water and then I would mix them with herbs, veggies, and greens.
BAKED STUFFED SARDINES: THE RECIPE
This recipe is a great choice for first-time sardine eaters because the stuffing is flavorful enough to ground the fishy taste that many beginners find revolting.
For this recipe, we need cleaned sardines all the way: heads and bones removed. You end up with butterflied sardines ready to get married! Do you remember the recipe’s name? Married sardines! So, we match equally sized sardines to welcome the stuffing for a “happily ever-married couple”. Give them your love and blessing. How cool is this?
ALL I GOT IS CANNED SARDINES. WILL IT WORK?
Yes, it will work just fine. Purchase the product as plain as you can. Either in water or in extra virgin olive oil. I would avoid any other ingredients like sauces and spices.
The only issue about canned sardines for this recipe is that it is difficult to butterfly them because they won’t keep their shape. Well, it seems like these sardines will stay single. Sorry! If it is the case with the sardines you have in hand, just drain them from the liquid and place them on a small baking pan/plate. I used a tart baking dish lol. Strangely enough, it looks good! Prepare the vegetables and the olive oil-lemon dressing and pour everything over them. Bake for about 15 minutes and serve hot.
MY BAKED STUFFED SARDINES ARE READY! NOW, WHAT?
Serve them hot with a glass of cool white wine like a light-flavored Moschofilero, a bold Assyrtiko, or a highly aromatic Malagouzia. Those are my favorites.
There is more than one way to enjoy this dish. See below my propositions:
Serve them on crusty toasted whole wheat bread with leftover juices from the pan. This combo is a healthy bomb and a culinary dream come true at the same time.
Don’t forget the salad so that the meal will be even more nutritious and flavorful. It can be whatever you want. A Greek salad (horiatiki), a green salad with arugula (my favorite with sardines), a cabbage salad, and greens with just olive oil and lemon.
A mezze dish
These baked stuffed sardines can be the king among mezze plates. For those who don’t know mezze, it is the Greek word for the Spanish tapas and the Italian antipasti. In a few words, mezze is a collection of small plates containing a variety of different flavorful dishes along with traditional alcoholic beverages like ouzo, tsipouro, raki, or just wine.
You may find more mezze recipes in the blog like my family’s favorite marinate cured anchovies (=gavros marinatos), beet salad (=patzarosalata), split pea puree (=fava), olive oil flatbread (=ladenia), spicy feta cheese dip (=tirokafteri), baked giant beans.
Ok, rather difficult and time-consuming to make mezze plates for dinner after a tiring day at work. However, it would be an excellent idea for a casual dinner with friends, if you want to make it a unique culinary experience. A dinner to remember. Just an idea, guys! Just an idea!
Make a spread
If you make this recipe, you have to let me know! I absolutely love your feedback. This is a huge motivation for me and keeps 30daysofgreekfood’s kitchen alive. Bookmark this recipe and leave your rate and comment below, or take a photo with your baked stuffed sardines and tag me on Instagram with #30daysofgreekfood and Facebook with @30daysofgreekfood.
Baked Stuffed Sardines
- 1 pound (500g) fresh sardines, preferably cleaned OR
- 5 cans (about 4 ounces/100g each), sardines in water or olive oil
- 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 big tomato or two small
- 1 bell pepper, finely chopped
- 2 spring onions, the white part, finely chopped
- Parsley, finely chopped (optional)
FOR THE DRESSING
- 1/2 cup (100g) olive oil
- 1 lemon, the juice and zest
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper
- Red chili pepper flakes
- Lemon juice or slices (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Remove the skin from the tomato (optional). See below how to do it easily*. Quarter it and use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds. Dice finely the flesh and place it in a colander to drain from excess water (keep the tomato juices for later use).
- In a small bowl, add the garlic, the spring onion, the bell pepper, parsley (optional) and the tomato. Season with salt and pepper and use a small spoon to mix well.
- In a small bowl add the lemon juice, zest, red chili pepper flakes and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
FOR CANNED SARDINES
- Drain sardines from the liquid and place them on a small baking pan/plate. Pour the vegetables and the olive oil-lemon dressing over them. Bake for about 20 minutes.
FOR FRESH/FROZEN SARDINES
- Clean the sardines (or ideally purchase them already cleaned). Remove intestines, head, and backbone and butterfly them. Spread the butterflied fish on a plate, skin-side down. Drizzle some olive oil and use a brush (or your hands) to gently coat them. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Use a spoon and scoop the vegetable filling over the bottom layer sardines. Cover with its other half. Choose equally sized sardines so that the filling will be better enclosed.
- Pour the lemon-olive oil dressing over the sardines and bake for 15 minutes. Use a spatula (or just a fork) and carefully turn over for another 10 minutes.
- Serve hot. Sprinkle with oregano, parsley and/or some lemon juice or slices (optional).