fish being smoked and grilled

Sardines are eaten all over the world; however, the name is actually a catch-all (see what I did there?) term for lots of different small fishes, the most common being pilchards. What fish you’re actually eating depends completely on where it was caught.

Nowhere holds them in as high regard as Portugal. The Portuguese love fish any time of year, which is partly why all their cities are on the coast, but come summer it’s tough to have a snack or meal that doesn’t include sardines. They’re cooked everywhere, even on the streets. On 13 June every the country they holds a feast in honour of Saint Anthony, a Catholic priest mostly credited with reconciling troubled couples. Quite where sardines come in the rescue of a marriage is unclear, but they say the fatty acids in fish are good for brain function, so maybe it helps people think before they speak.

Another reason it might play such a large part in one of Portugal’s greatest feasts is that sardines are absolutely delicious. Whether from a can or fresh they are super soft, moist, salty and moreish – and they go dynamite with anything slightly acidic, like lemon, vinegar and onion. They also really benefit from fresh herbs, which lift the oily texture and give it some aroma. So here are four brilliant sardine recipes, courtesy of Jamie’s lovely food stylist Georgie, starting with a Portuguese classic straight from the Feast of St Anthony.

Grilled sardines

They couldn’t be easier and they’re super cheap too. Just get a griddle-pan or barbecue screaming hot, rub some fresh sardines with a little oil and some salt and cook straight on the grill until crispy. To check your fish is cooked go to the thickest part of the flesh and it should pinch away easily, leaving the bone. Before serving, squeeze over some lemon juice and maybe some chopped chives or dill too. It’s brilliant with lemony couscous or potato salad. You could try Jamie’s Moroccan-style recipe here.

sardine recipes

Pilchard pizza

Similar to the brilliant Stargazey flatbread pizza that used to be served at Jamie’s Union Jacks. Roll out a thin pizza base, cover it with tomato sauce with a dash of chilli and flake over some tinned sardines. Bake at full whack and then finish with some thinly sliced red onion and a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley.

Sardine spaghetti

Start by frying some sliced garlic, a little chilli, a handful of cherry tomatoes and a few capers. Cook some linguine (roughly 100g per person), drain and toss with it into the pan with a couple of tinned sardine fillets. Once hot, serve up and a drizzle of good-quality extra virgin olive oil.

Pilchard potato salad

Boil some new potatoes and make a dressing with natural yoghurt, a dash of red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, sliced spring onions and dill. Drain the potatoes, leave to cool slightly and then toss in the dressing. Flake in a few sardine fillets and sprinkle over some more freshly chopped dill.

Header image by Ben Coombs