Sarde Con Olie – Homemade ‘Tinned’ Sardines in Oil

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Except you’re a foodie.

Then invention becomes necessary.

IMG_4876Be honest – bacon jam, salted caramels, tomato lassi? Food to save the world? I guess not. Delicious, creative, inventive, pure genius? Definitely.

Take me for instance –  I’m partial to ‘vintage’ food packaging so much so that I’ll often buy things just because I like the look. Like when we went to Barcelona last fall and I went on a funny spree, buying ‘period’/dated looking food packets. From baking powder to anchovies, sardines and stock cubes. I was drawn to the simplicity of design.


All these I saved it, planning on using them sometime in the future, till my husband requested the tin of sardines, hence their absence from the photo below.


I didn’t dare say a word to the lover of sardines. Somehow I didn’t think my ‘I’m saving it not really to eat…but to take some nice photos in 2 months’ would meet with approval. And so I let it go and have nothing to show you in its place that’s packaged.

Instead, while searching for pizzas in the deep freezer one Saturday night dinner, I happened upon 600 odd grams of freshly purchased, now frozen Italian sardines….and thought to myself, how about making my very own sarde con olio?


Gives birth.

To invention.


When I get a new idea….I often think of it as a kind of birthing. First a tiny seed takes root and before you know it, it’s walking, living, breathing and even occasionally shouting back at you, forgetting from whence it came.

And so it was with this.

First I thought of sardines and their softness in oil and what came to mind was duck confit.

And then I knew that the rest was history but still I touched base with Google, just to make sure.


With pointers from Seamus Mullen, I was home and hosed.

If you like sardines, this will please you to no end – this recipe recreates the tinned, fishy, shiny-skinned pisces you are used to.

Now if you are ambivalent about sardines, this recipe will do nothing to change your mind. Go home now.

And for those standing smack in the middle of the road, you’ll have to give it a try and see how it goes. You might get a whiff of adventure.

The beauty of these sardines were that they looked and tasted almost exactly like their canned/tinned brethren. Can I get an amen? For some reason I am fascinated with recreating the texture of preserved foods – dried mangoes anyone?


Chef’s Best describes my sardines, as well as theirs:

Hailed as a “superfood” for their nutritional punch, sardines are high in protein, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. They also get rave reviews for being an affordable food that can be found in most grocery stores. Serve them with cheese and crackers at your next picnic or include them in salads, pasta sauces and your favorite sandwiches.

Skin colour: Our chefs define high-quality canned sardines in oil as having a bright skin color with some iridescent silver shining through.

Texture: The interior flesh should be fleshy white as opposed to brown or gray. Sardines should have high structural integrity, meaning the fish should be intact and whole, not broken or smashed.

Taste: The moderate aroma will have a complex character that delivers fresh fish, seawater, smoky and briny notes. The aroma should not be simple with muddy or old fish notes. There should also be no aroma off notes, including metallic notes.
High-quality canned sardines should have a tender and easily chewed texture that is not tough or full of hard bones. Canned sardines must be moist, although not as moist as poached fish, and the moderately long aftertaste shouldn’t result in a long, fishy finish that lingers on the palate.


Now while no judge judged mine….save for me and the husband, I still am thrilled – I’m an inventor.

But only out of necessity.


If you want to infuse the fish with any flavours – herbs or spices, add the flavourings to the sugar-salt cure mixture.

Olive oil poached sardines

Fresh sardines fillets or whole sardines, rinsed, scaled and filleted.
Caster sugar
Coarse sea salt
Olive oil (or sunflower oil)
How To

If using whole sardines, fillet them.

First remove the head and then gently cut down the belly side, lengthways. Gently remove the guts as sardines are tender fish.

Spread open, skin side down. Then place your finger under the central bone and gently pull it up and remove. Using tweezers, remove some of the other larger bones. Cut each fish in half to form fillets and then you’re done.

IMG_4833 IMG_4834IMG_4835 IMG_4837IMG_4840 IMG_4841

Cure the fillets in a 50/50 mixture of coarse sea salt and caster sugar for 15 minutes. After a quarter of an hour, rinse well and pat dry.


Just like cured salmon, the flesh will firm up a bit and release some of its juices.


Heat  oil to 60°C (120°F) and hold at that temperature. Slip in sardine fillets and confit for 3 minutes until just cooked through.


Put fish into a clean, lidded jar or weck pot and top up in oil.


Can be refrigerated for up a few weeks.


Tester notes – sardines have been used in a recipe…..with success! More on that soon X X X


I’d also like to ask, if you like… nominate Kitchen Butterfly in the Saveur Best Food Blog Awards, open until Friday the 22nd of April.

I know I am canvasing votes but I’d love my blog to be nominated in the Best Culinary Essay category.  Thank you…very, very much in advance! Lots of love and have a superb Easter!
Saveur[wpurp-searchable-recipe]Sarde Con Olie – Homemade ‘Tinned’ Sardines in Oil – – – [/wpurp-searchable-recipe]


  1. Please keep in mind that Mediterranean small fish can be infected with parasites that behave differently in human bodies (they leaves GI tract and infect other organs). While you might be able to see very tiny worms (thin like hair) at the time of cleaning the fish and even kill them with the salt, their eggs WILL survive that temperature/time. Most bacteria will not be killed at 60°C during a few minutes. The minimum safe parameters to stop bacterial multiplication and killing parasites in fish are: 1) 4 minutes on steam, 2) 6 minutes at 95°C 3) 30 minutes between 70°C and 75°C.
    My method of “canning” fish similar to sardines (ones of the size of your pinky finger): 1 kg of small fish (2 dollars worth), “beheaded” cured in juice of two lemons for 15 minutes. Pack the fish tightly with about 2 dcl olive (or sunflower) oil. Close the jar lids tightly and place into oven at 80°C overnight (or 100°C for one hour, but leave in oven until cooled). That will keep the fish firm, but will also soften the fish spine.
    My favorite serving: have some finely chopped onion and basil with a touch of salt. Use the fork to mash in some canned fish. Spread it on a lightly grilled and cooled bread slices. 🙂

  2. thanks for the pic tutorial….I would have never thought to try this, but our local store carries very little brands of sardine, some are just gross..I can imagine the flavor of yours are amazing!!



  3. Sardines and I have a bit of a history… my dad used to use emotional blackmail on me that the little fishy would have died for nothing if I didn’t eat it and I’ve never been able to eat them without remembering this ever since! I much prefer fresh sardines, even if you are going to DIY can them!

  4. […] intensifies the anise-seed flavours of fennel), to good use in a weeknight dinner that uses up my homemade ‘tinned ‘sardines and leads to the great discovery – toasted breadcrumbs […]

  5. I love sardines, and your recipe is so interesting. I used to do something similar but it wasn’t such a fast process. Looks delicious!
    Happy Easter to you and your loved ones, too!

  6. These do look exactly like tinned ones, and better I think because you’ve deboned and gutted them. I’m sure some of the ones I’ve consumed have bones, guts, scales and all!

    Hope you’re having a great Easter!

  7. Oh wow. I would have never even dreamed of making these at home, but the photo tutorial makes it look so easy and tasty! I am intrigued.If I can get my hands on some fresh sardines I will give this a try. I’m in Salmon country after all.

  8. I so admire your creativity – this would never have occurred to me at all!
    I love your easy-to-follow instructions and photo’s, too – just perfect.

  9. I think I need to go home, never been a fan of a tinned sardine. However your post makes me want to try…looking forward to the recipe for more inspiration than I’m feeling right now.

  10. You are SO creative, my friend! 🙂 I love that you made these from scratch. I had no idea sardines were so good for you. Now I have to track some down. 🙂

  11. You are a better person than I. I could never go through this. I remember in Portugal eating my sardines deep friend and here in the states when I am in the mood..I can it…

    Hapy Easte to you and yours.

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