Fresh Sardines with Garlic and Parsley

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

One of the Basques’ favorite ways to treat just-caught anchovies is to butterfly them, then gently cook them in fragrant olive oil that, with the addition of garlic and parsley, turns into a delectable sauce. During the anchovy season in May, you can enjoy the small fish prepared this way at humble tapas bars and fancy restaurants alike. Here in the States, if you can find fresh anchovies—and don’t mind cleaning them—by all means use them in this recipe (you’ll need about one pound). Sardines are equally delicious prepared this way. I describe how to clean them, but if you prefer, ask the fishmonger to clean, bone, and butterfly the sardines for you. The secret to keeping the flesh of the fish nicely moist is not letting the temperature of the oil rise to the point where it shrivels the skin. If you like an acidic kick, add a splash of white wine vinegar or lemon juice to the oil once you turn off the heat.

Serves4 to 6 as a tapa, 2 or 3 as a light main course

Cooking Methodpan-frying


Total Timeunder 30 minutes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course, tapas/small plates

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, low carb, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Five Ingredients or LessYes

Mealdinner, lunch

Taste and Texturegarlicky, herby, savory


  • 8 smallish fresh sardines (about 1 pound)
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • ¾ cup fragrant extra virgin olive oil (do not use an assertive peppery oil)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Crusty bread, for serving


  1. To clean and bone the sardines, remove the scales from the fish by gently scraping them with a small dull knife under cold running water. Cut off and discard the heads, then, using a small sharp knife, carefully make a slit along the bellies. Gut and clean the fish under cold running water. Grab the top of the spine of a sardine and pull it out quickly, trying not to remove too much of the flesh around it. Butterfly the sardine by opening it up like a book. If you feel small bones, trim the sides of the fillets. Repeat with the remaining sardines. Rinse the sardines under cold running water, pat them dry with paper towels and lightly sprinkle salt over them.

  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat for about 30 seconds. Add the sardines and cook until they just turn opaque, 30 to 45 seconds per side. Using a slotted spatula, transfer the sardines to a rimmed serving dish. Add the garlic to the olive oil and stir until it is very fragrant but not browned, about 1 minute. Stir in the parsley and cook for about 15 seconds, then pour the olive oil over the sardines. Serve at once with bread to mop up the garlic oil.



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