Grilled sardines with a hot pepper dressing make for a great appetizer or a light dinner.
Every time I make this recipe, I reminisce about a trip to Italy when I was 10 years old. Back then there was no port in my dad’s town so being a seaside village there were always lots of fishermen and boats docked in the sand. One morning I watched a fishing boat empty its net filled with fish on the beach, a sight I will never forget. You could see the fish glistening in the sun as they jumped around trying to avoid their eminent demise while people quickly scurried to sort them and get them into pails so they could immediately be sold on the boardwalk. Now that’s fresh fish! I’ve gone out on a small boat with one of my uncles before and tried my hand at fishing in the Mediterranean – much different than taking your fishing pole to Lake Erie! Hand-made, hand-held reels of fish line with multiple hooks and just the right bait and weight to catch a few fresh sardines. I have to admit, small little boat out in the Mediterranean and deep clear waters was a little scary but a great experience none-the-less!
Obviously here in Ontario we can’t fish for fresh sardines so for this recipe we used frozen sardines which are readily available in grocery stores. Once thawed, clean the fish by removing the scales, gills, and guts. The scales come off easily by lightly rubbing them with your fingers under cold water. To remove the guts, use a sharp knife to make a slit from just under the head of the fish to the beginning of the tail and use your fingers to gently pull out and clean the sardine. It sounds disgusting but really, it’s simple and they are small so we’re not talking a pound of guts!
Rinse them, lay them out on paper towels and lightly salt them before grilling.
These would traditionally be grilled over a little fire but for ease and availability we use the barbecue. We were fortunate enough to receive a Cookina BBQ Reusable Grilling Sheet to try out and we have to say it was amazing! We were a little skeptical at first but the results were fantastic. You would swear that the skin was right against the flame by the way they looked and cooked so evenly. The best part – no skin stuck to the grill, no grease meant no flare ups, and no fish smell lingering on the grill!! This is great because as much as I love making these for my family, I am not a huge fan of the smell. What I am a fan of now is the Cookina Grilling Sheet! The reusable baking sheet works the same way only it’s for the oven. If you don’t have a barbecue, you could easily do these on a pan in the oven on broil.
The dressing is easy and uses some of the usual spice culprits of Italian cuisine: hot peppers, garlic, oregano, and of course – olive oil. A quick squeeze of fresh lemon just before serving and they are ready to go!
Sardines grilled and dressed with a hot pepper, garlic, oregano and olive oil dressing.
- 750g whole frozen sardines, thawed
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
For the dressing
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 small garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1/2–1 tsp chili flakes, or as much as you like
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- Lemon wedges
- Heat barbecue to high.
- In a separate bowl, mix all the dressing ingredients together and set aside.
- Clean, gut, remove gills and scales from the fish.
- Pat dry and sprinkle with the sea salt.
- Place the Cookina Grilling Sheet on the hot grill.
- Place sardines on the Cookina Grilling Sheet in a single layer.
- Allow them to brown and crisp, about 2-3 minutes per side.
- Remove to a serving platter.
- Immediately drizzle with the hot pepper dressing and a squeeze of lemon.
- Serve and enjoy!
- This recipe can be made without the Cookina Grilling Sheet but be sure to clean and oil the grill.
- Do not attempt to flip them until they easily release or they will break apart and stick to the grill!