You either love them for their rich flavor, meaty texture and oiliness, or hate them because that silvery skin and those little brittle bones freak you out a little – I am talking about the small and humble sardine, of course! This recipe here is a simple, Greek recipe for fresh oven-baked sardines that will convert even those that might have previously shunned the tiny fish! Depending on where you live, the hardest part of this recipe might be to find really fresh sardines – unfortunately, that canned variety most of us grew up with really just won’t do here (which might be a relief to some)!
Fish and seafood are a big part of the Greek/Mediterranean diet and fresh sardines are a very popular choice here since they are delicious, healthy and CHEAP (prices ranging between 2 – 6 euros per kilogram)! Over here, fresh sardines are usually bought by the kilogram, after which they are cleaned, and either grilled, baked, or even served slightly pickled and raw. The little fish are usually served with minimal ingredients such as a simple drizzle of lemon juice and sprinkle of oregano, or baked with some onion and tomato(sauce) in the oven. In my version of ‘sardines from the oven’, the few slices of tomato and onion are a great accompaniment to the fatty fish without overpowering the entire dish too much – the sardines definitely are the main stars here! A big glug of extra-virgin olive oil (reminiscent of that flavorful oil found in the canned variety!) and a good sprinkling of oregano – two ingredients Greeks can’t live without – truly make this an authentic Greek dish.
If you are like me and grew up in a country where these oily fish are not really a staple of the daily diet, you’ve probably mostly consumed those sardines that come tightly packed in cans and whose smell is slightly reminiscent of cat food (nothing really wrong with that, though, IMO) – I’d never tasted fresh ones until I moved to Greece! Growing up, those canned little fish were all I knew and they could often be found at the back of the bottom drawer of the kitchen cabinet in my parents’ house. Honestly? I thought they were a great treat slightly mushed on toast and sprinkled with a bit of pepper when chips, or other first-choice snacks were not available. Similarly, during my student years they were definitely a life-saver when I couldn’t be bothered to cook… haven’t we all at some point of our lives scooped mushy fish straight from the can onto some crackers, or toast and called it dinner? Of course, we have! Anyway, now that I’ve paid my respects to the canned variety and while I still enjoy an oily canned fish pried from a can found during a midnight snack-hunt through the cupboards from time to time, I have to admit that there is nothing quite like fresh Greek sardines!
Sardeles ston Fourno / Σαρδέλες στον Φούρνο (Greek Oven-Baked Sardines)
- 1 - 1.2kg whole fresh sardines
- 3 - 4 firm ripe tomatoes, sliced
- 1 large yellow onion, cut into thin rings
- 120ml extra virgin olive oil
- 50ml dry white wine, or water
- 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
- Salt to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- Few sprigs of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- Crusty bread, for serving (optional)
- Pre-heat the oven to 200°C
- Clean the sardines: start by removing the tiny scales by holding the sardines under cold water and gently rubbing on them with your thumb. The scales should come off easily. Then, with a small knife, cut behind the head/gills of the sardines and slightly twist and pull the head away from the body to remove the guts of the fish. Slice open the belly to remove the rest of the insides. Rinse the sardines under cold running water and lightly scrape your thumb, or knife along the spine on the inside to remove all blood and dirt from the belly cavity. If you wish, remove the spine and bones (I keep them in) by pushing along the spine on both sides and snapping, or breaking it off. The spine and bones should come out easily with fresh sardines.
- Arrange all of the ingredients: Place the cleaned sardines in a single layer in a large oven dish and sprinkle on some of the oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the sliced tomatoes on top of the sardines to cover them and divide the thinly sliced onion rings on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle on the rest of the oregano and pour 50ml of wine, or water and all of the olive oil over the ingredients in the oven dish.
- Cook the sardines: Place the oven dish in the middle of the preheated oven. Cook sardines for 20 - 25 minutes, until the fish, tomatoes and onions are cooked. Before serving, sprinkle the chopped fresh parsley over the dish.