Fresh Grilled Sardines with lemon and oregano, a lightly charred skin, and juicy flesh. This is hands down the best way to eat sardines!
This recipe for grilled sardines can be made both on the bbq or on a grill pan. Personally, I prefer using a cast iron grill pan. It heats up just as nicely as a gas grill, minus the greasy smoke coming from the flames.
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Fresh Sardines Nutrition
Fresh sardine fish is one of the healthiest fish around. They're one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids (the healthy fats that prevent heart disease), providing 2 whole grams in just a 3-ounce serving (85-gram serving).
The healthy fats in sardines also help to fight inflammation in the body. Sardines are also a good source of Vitamin D and calcium though the latter comes mostly from the bones. Meaning you have to eat whole sardines like the canned ones for example where the bone is soft and edible. A great recipe for this is these canned sardine fish cakes.
Cooking Fresh Sardines
Cooking fresh sardines is easy, it only requires some delicate handling of the fish. Both when you prepare and when you cook it.
First of all, though let's see how you prepare fresh sardines.
Preparing Fresh Sardine
To prepare whole fresh sardines for bbq let them soak in plenty of cold water first. This will help firm up their skin so you won't break it while you remove the scales.
You may want to put some rubber gloves on as the best way to remove those scales is by using your hands. The sardine skin is super thin and breaks easily so if you try to scale it using a knife for example the skin will come off.
So using your thumb you do gentle circular movements starting from the bottom of the belly and going upwards removing all scales as you go. And no worries there usually aren't much, sometimes even none.
As for the head, we usually leave it on. Unless you don't like looking at it because you get the idea it's staring at you (I've heard that one once in the restaurant). The head is very helpful when grilling sardines. Because it's the hardest part of the body, you can grab hold of it to flip the fish on the grill without breaking it apart.
And what if you decide to remove the head? You will have to settle for the tail then, which is not as easy but will do. To remove the head just pull it away from the fish's body.
Do You Need To Gut Sardines?
Nope, you don't need to gut sardines. And that's because sardine fish is a fish caught in the wild, it mostly stays on the surface of the water so its gut isn't filled with sand or any unpleasant flavors from the bottom of the sea.
Not gutting this fish doesn't make any difference to its flavor. Like with anchovies for example that have bitter-tasting innards and have to be removed (don't know what they are eating).
But what if you want to gut because you just don't want innards in your fish?
How To Gut Sardines
Use a small knife and make a small incision on the belly right under the head (about an inch long) and very gently pull out everything that's inside. Rinse with cold water.
Marinade For Sardines
Sardine marinade is the simplest one, sea salt! This fish doesn't need anything else. As long as it's fresh of course, otherwise, it could do with some seasonings, like lemon zest, and/or finely minced garlic.
Fresh Sardines have firm skin and shiny eyes, and their guts are inside. When the fish isn't as fresh its body is more flexible and soft usually leading to its belly opening and revealing the innards and the eyes or the head shows red blood on it.
How To Cook Sardines On The Grill
The first thing you need to know about how to cook fresh sardines is that they are ready in no time. Because it's such a small fish it takes only 5 minutes to cook on a very hot bbq/grill pan on high heat. This means no more than 2-3 minutes on each side.
But because bbq sardines usually tend to yield grease flames due to their fatty skin plus the olive oil that's used to grease the fish, are better cooked at a lower temperature of medium or even medium-low, increasing the cooking time to around 12 minutes.
RECIPE TIPS On How To Grill Sardines:
- The grates of the grill have to be really hot and well brushed with oil before adding the fish to it.
- The fish needs to be completely dry of water so it won't stick on the grill.
- Also, the fish needs to be greased with oil very well before being added to the grill. Olive oil is thicker and provides better protection from sticking, adds more flavor, but might flare up more.
- Grab hold of the fish from the head in order to turn it. Use cooking tongs for this. If you have removed the head, grab hold of it from its tail.
- It's easier if you lay the fish on the grill evenly so all heads are in one direction and all tails in the other.
- Don't flip many times. Two times, three at the most. It's delicate remember?
These Grilled Greek sardines are drizzled with a quick sauce made of lemon and extra virgin olive oil. It's called Ladolemono and it's what Greeks add to almost all grilled fish and meat dishes. It adds flavor, keeps the meat/fish moist, and the acid of the lemon breaks down the fat.
15-minute fresh roast sardines taste very similar to grilled sardines. Only these are made in the oven and flavored with garlic as well!
What To Serve With Grilled Sardines
There is seriously nothing better to serve with Greek grilled sardines other than a traditional Greek salad. And also some grilled bread seasoned with dried oregano, sea salt (coarse is even better), and drizzled with olive oil.
There are of course other delicious options such as Horta (Greek greens) for a real superfood meal, Marinated Tomato Salad, and this healthy White Bean Salad With Lemon, Garlic, And Fresh Herbs also pairs beautifully with this sardine recipe.
How To Eat Grilled Sardines
Wash those fingers as they're the best way to eat fresh sardines. Hold one sardine on the fingers of one hand and with the index finger and thumb of your opposite hand, pull one part of the flesh (one fillet) revealing the bone. Eat it and turn the fish around and proceed to the next one leaving the middle bone and head.
Want to use a fork and knife? Sorry can't help you here, this is a no-no in Greece. And usually ends up with a sardine mash on the plate from what I have witnessed.
Grilled Sardines Calories
Grilled fresh sardines do not contain a lot of calories. The calories in this sardines recipe come mostly from the olive oil that gets drizzled on top.
One 300-gram portion (a very filling one) of this recipe is 483 kcal for the fish only without the olive oil and lemon dressing added on top. So if you want to cut down on calories drizzle only some lemon and oregano on top of the fish!
Grilled Sardines Greek-style
For The Sardines:
- 600 grams (1.3 pound) whole fresh sardines
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ⅔ teaspoon kosher salt
- dried oregano to serve with
- lemon quarters to serve with
For The Lemon Dressing:
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Prepare The Sardines:
- Place the sardines in a bowl with very cold water. And allow them to soak for 20 minutes. This will help firm their skin so it won't break as you clean them.
- With your hands (the tip of your thumb) gently rub the skin to remove any scales, if there are any. If not, skip this. If you want to gut the fish see note 1 below.
- Rinse the sardines well. Then place on a plate and into the fridge for 1 hour uncovered.
Prepare The Lemon Dressing:
- Add the extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice to a small bowl and whisk until it thickens. Or add in a pipping bottle if you have one.
Grill The Sardines:
- Heat a grill pan, griddle, or bbq on high. Brush the grates with oil.
- Pat dry the sardines with paper towels. Then drizzle with the 3 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle the salt on top. Gently mix so the oil and salt spread all over.
- Once your cooking surface if very hot (this is important so the fish won't stick), start to add the fish to it. If cooking on a bbq you may need to adjust the heat to medium or even medium-low. Sardines tend to flame up due to their fat content.
- Cook the sardines for 2 minutes on high or 5-6 minutes on medium before flipping them.
- To flip a sardine use cooking thongs (preferably flat ones), and gently grab hold of it from its head. Its body is very delicate and will easily fall apart if you try to hold it from there. If you have removed the heads you may want to try flipping them with a spatula or grab hold of them from their tail.
- Cook for 3 minutes more on high or 6-7 minutes on medium.
- Add sardines to a plate, shake or stir the lemon dressing to become uniform again if it has separated, and pour it all over the fish. Sprinkle some dried oregano on top and serve with a few pieces of lemon on the side.