Sardines in the pan

1kg sardines, fresh as fresh

250g tin of peeled tomatoes, with no added sugar or salt — If it’s deep summer, use fresh Romas.


few sprigs of rosemary 1-2 chillies, sliced finely black pepper


Clean the sardines by wiping away any scales under running water. Break off the head, and run your fingers down the guts, until there ain’t no more guts. Clean the fish under running water and set aside on paper towels. This time there is no need to fillet the fish. Cooked sardines are simple to fillet at the table, coming away from the bone very easily, and with a minimum of fuss. You will need a finger bowl and a large napkin.


Make a simple tomato sauce by cooking down the tomatoes with a little salt, the rosemary and the chillies in the microwave. Cook for 20-30 minutes, and the sauce will be luscious. Remove the rosemary and set aside.


In a heavy-based fry pan, heat a little olive oil until a piece of sardine sizzles on contact. Put one or two or three sardines in the pan, kicking them around to make sure there is no danger of sticking, now or later. Add the rest slowly and work them around the pan. Move them gently so they don’t break apart, and keep piling them on top of one another. Allow them to bubble away for a few minutes in their own juices, then add the tomato sauce and black pepper. Allow to heat through until just at boiling, and remove.


Serve as is on buttered toast, or tossed through fresh noodles, or with steamed rice. You can eat the fish bones and all, but that is only for people who like gnashing bones between their teeth. Probably this is the bunch which has grown up taking tinned salmon, bones and all. The better thing to do is eat them as you would in bathers on the beach — without much dignity. Pick out the sardines with your fingers and draw away the fillets from each fish. You will end up with a pile of tiny backbones on your plate, tomato-encrusted fingers and a smile on your dial.

WINE: Fried sardines or raw, still it’s beer and/or a young Rhine riesling.