DNX FOOD Food Culture Italian Crusted Sardines

Italian Crusted Sardines

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Here’s the perfect recipe for the sardine-shy: Take fresh, boneless sardine fillets. Coat with a bold Italian breadcrumb crust flavoured with lemon, garlic, herbs, capers and pecorino cheese. Now quickly kiss them with a hot pan until crispy. It’s an explosion of flavour and texture that’s cooked in 2 1/2 minutes flat, making it one of the fastest fish recipes around!

Close up overhead photo of Mediterranean Crusted Sardines on a plate, ready to be served
Italian Crusted Sardines

Sardine recipe

Sardines are one of the most underrated fish around. They are rich in flavour, cheap and good for you (they’re packed with heart-healthy omega 3’s). They’re also a fast-breeding and sustainably fished species.

Many cultures revere the humble sardine, especially when pulled sparkling fresh from the sea. In Sicily, Italians love to roll up sardines stuffed with breadcrumbs, garlic, herbs and a little tangy hard cheese, then bake them or throw them on a hot barbecue.

It’s this southern Italian take on sardines that we’re drawing inspiration from today. The flavours of Sicily – lemon, pine nuts, chilli, garlic, herbs, pecorino and olive oil – are a winning match for the robust flavour of sardines!

Mediterranean Crusted Sardines on toast

This recipe is an excellent one for the sardine-wary or first-timers because:

  • There’s no bones to worry about. We’re using pre-filleted sardines today. However for the record, sardine bones are so small and soft you can actually eat them!

  • The intense crust flavours stand up to the stronger flavour of sardines; and

  • It’s really quick and easy.

This is a really quick sardine recipe with big Italian flavours that’s great for sardine first-timers.

Overhead photo of plate of Mediterranean Crusted Sardines

Sardines for this recipe

As mentioned above, we’re using fresh, pre filleted sardines in this recipe. The guts and bones are removed, and the sardines come butterflied, as shown below.

Ingredients for Mediterranean Crusted Sardines

They can be purchased from fish mongers fresh and sometimes packaged at fresh produce stores such as Harris Farm in Sydney (packet below).

Filleting your own is not particularly difficult but it’s a little fiddly to do well. So I will be mighty impressed if you do! Leave a comment below to brag! 😂

If they come vacuum-packed (as pictured below), they can have a shelf life of a couple of weeks. Fresh sardines that aren’t packaged however have a short shelf life, like all oily fish. Use preferably the same day you buy them or at the latest the next day.

Packet or fresh filleted sardines, ready to be eaten

Whole fresh sardines

This recipe is specifically designed for filleted sardines but can easily be amended for whole sardines. To do so, just sprinkle the whole sardines with the tasty crumb onto the sardines on a tray, drizzle with olive oil then bake in a hot oven. Directions are in Note 1 on the recipe card.

Canned sardines

Though this recipe is not designed for canned sardines, to incorporate that tasty crumb into a dish using canned sardines, I would split them in half horizontally as best I can (they will break, that’s ok) then line them up so they’re are touching. Cover completely with crumb, drizzle with olive oil, then grill/broil until the crumb is crunchy and the sardines are warmed through. Scoop up with spatula, pile onto toast. Devour! (Directions in Note 1)

Other fish that can be used

This recipe works beautifully with both oily and non-oily fish. The fillets just need to be fairly small and thin with a flat flesh surface. This makes it suitable for the crust to adhere and for the fish to cook through before the crust burns. Other fish that can be used for this recipe as written include:

  • bream (small)

  • flounder

  • sole

  • herring

  • blue mackerel

  • sea mullet

  • river trout

Use your judgement for quantity – enough for 2 people. Also the cook time will need to be adjusted slightly for the thickness of the fillet you use.

Ingredients for the Italian Crust and Topping

Here’s what you need for the flavour-loaded crust! There’s quite a few substitution options, so don’t be concerned if you don’t have everything.

Ingredients in crust for Mediterranean Crusted Sardines
  • Anchovies – We’re using this as the seasoning (salt) in the crust mixture. “But, will it be too fishy??” I hear you you wondering. NO! Finely minced, once it’s mixed up withe everything else then cooked, you’re just left with brilliant savoury flavour and no trace of anchovy flavour.

    Anchovies are a secret ingredient and umami-booster in many classic recipes. Think Italian Puttanesca pasta, French Cafe de Paris (steak butter!), tapenade and everybody’s favourite Caesar Salad Dressing. Chefs know even roast lamb benefits from a few cheeky fillets stuffed or mashed into the flesh.

    Finely chopping anchovy fillets is best but for convenience, paste can be used. If you’re immovable on the question of anchovies (but … why??!), leave it out and add more pecorino instead.

  • Pecorino (or parmesan) – Another savoury flavour-booster in this crumb, and also helps make the crumb extra crispy when fried up!

  • Panko breadcrumbs – A Japanese breadcrumb favoured for the extra-crispy coating it gives crumbed foods. You can buy it at most big supermarkets (Coles, Woolworths) in the Asian foods section and Asian stores. Substitute with regular breadcrumbs if you can’t find it.

  • Garlic – Hard to find an Italian recipe without!

  • Lemon – We use zest here to bring a beautiful perfume of fresh lemon flavour to the crust. Really, don’t skip this!

  • Capers – Briny goodness to balance out the big savoury flavours going on in this crust. Don’t have capers? Substitute with finely chopped gherkins or even green olives, for a similar flavour effect.

  • Pine nuts – A classic Sicilian ingredient! The creamy nuttiness works brilliantly with sardines. Substitute with: almonds, macadamias or pecans.

  • Parsley, chilli, onion topping – For a fresh touch and sprinkle of colour, and some theatrics as they sizzle dramatically when you douse with the hot oil!

    Spiciness – The chilli we’re using here are large chillis which are barely spicy. The rule of thumb is: the larger the chilli, the less spicy they are! But if you’re concerned, leave them out and use more parsley instead.

How to make Italian Crusted Sardines

There’s a bit of mincing and grating to get the crunchy crumb coating prepared (but boy is it worth it!). The actual assembling and cooking part is super quick: 2 1/2 minutes on the stove!

How to make Mediterranean Crusted Sardines
  1. Crumb mixture – Mix the ingredients together in a bowl then spread on a small plate.

  2. Prepare sardines – Pat the sardines dry with a paper towel, and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle just the skin side with a little paprika. This gives the skin side and oil a lovely blush, and a hint of earthy flavour.

  3. Press flesh side into the crumb mixture. You won’t get a full, thick breadcrumb coverage because we’re not using the usual egg-flour dredge. The amount that sticks naturally is exactly what we want. Sardine fillets are small and thin, so we don’t want to overdo the crumb. This is also the reason why we only coat one side.

    Don’t worry, it will adhere quite firmly once cooked, thanks to the pecorino cheese (cheese = second best food glue after egg!)

  4. Repeat with remaining sardines then put fish aside on a plate, breadcrumb side up.

How to make Mediterranean Crusted Sardines
  1. Pan fry – Cook the sardines for 60 seconds skin side down initially. Then turn carefully – I use a small spatula and a butter knife for extra control – and cook the crust side for 90 seconds or until golden and crispy.

    A tip is to place the sardines in the skillet in a set sequence so you then can turn them in the same order. This is important for even cooking in recipes like this where the food is on the stove for such a short period of time.

  2. Crispy! This is what you are looking for before removing from the skillet – golden and crispy. We want that crisp! Err, and the golden too for that matter. 😂

  3. Topping – Remove the sardines to a serving plate, crust side up. Then sprinkle with the Topping (onion, chilli, parsley).

  4. The dramatic sizzle! The oil we used to pan fry the sardines is infused with flavour, so we will not be wasting it! It will also have a lovely red tinge to it, thanks to the paprika.

    We pour this delicious, hot oil over the sardines. The topping fries instantly, their aromas and flavours released in a dramatic sizzle! In fact, why not do this at the table, to impress? 😇

It will sizzle theatrically when you pour the oil over!
Overhead photo of plate of Mediterranean Crusted Sardines

What to serve with Italian Sardines

To make this into an instant meal serve on toast or for even better crunch factor, crostini. I like to use thin baguettes and slice on a heavy bias to make long crostini. See here for directions for how to make crostini.

Overhead close up photo of Crostini
Mediterranean Crusted Sardines on toast

Side salad

Go for a brightly-dressed, juicy salad to cut through the richness of the fish and oil dressing. A big, fat, juicy Greek Salad would be absolutely on theme here, as would an Italian Panzanella or a Tomato Salad with Olive Tapenade. Here are a few more suggestions:

And if you’re ever feeling indecisive, you know you always have our ultimate fall back – The Great Garden Salad! – Nagi x

Watch how to make it

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Close up overhead photo of Mediterranean Crusted Sardines on a plate, ready to be served

Italian Crusted Sardines

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Recipe video above. Here’s the perfect recipe for the sardine-shy: coat filleted sardines with an assertive Italian crust then pan fry until crispy. It’s an explosion of flavour and texture cooked in 2 1/2 minutes flat, making it one of the fastest fish recipes around!Excellent recipe for the sardine wary or first timers – no bones to worry about, and the intense Italian flavours balance out any concerns about the fishy flavour of sardines.Serve on crostini with a fresh salad on the side.



  • 8butterflied sardines(20g each = 160g total, Note 1)
  • 1/4tspsalt
  • 1/8tsppepper
  • 1/4tspsmoked paprika(sub normal or sweet)
  • 3tbspextra virgin olive oil

Italian Crust:

  • 1/2cuppanko breadcrumbs(Note 2)
  • 1garlic clove, finely minced
  • 2tsptoasted pinenuts, finely chopped (Note 3)
  • 2anchovies fillets, finely minced (sub 3/4 tsp paste, Note 4)
  • 1tspbaby capers, drained, finely chopped (Note 5)
  • 1tsplemon zest
  • 4tbsppecorino cheese, finely grated (or parmesan)
  • 2tspfresh oregano, chopped (sub 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 1tbspextra virgin olive oil


  • 4tspred onion, finely chopped (~1/4 small onion)
  • 1tsplarge red chilli, finely chopped , deseeded
  • 2tspparsley, finely chopped


  • Mix Crust: Mix the Italian Crust ingredients in a bowl. Spread on a small plate.
  • Mix Topping: Mix the Topping together in another small bowl.

Crust sardines:

  • Prepare sardines: Pat sardines dry with paper towel. Sprinkle both sides of each sardine with the salt and pepper. Sprinkle the skin side only with the paprika.
  • Crust flesh side: Press flesh side only firmly into the breadcrumbs – it won’t completely cover, that’s what we want (Note 6). Place on plate, breadcrumb side up. Repeat with remaining sardines.

Cooking sardines:

  • Pan fry sardines: Heat oil in a large non stick skillet over medium high heat. Place sardines in, skin side down. Cook for 60 seconds, then carefully turn. Cook the crust side for 90 seconds or until golden and crispy.
  • Topping & oil drizzle: Remove sardines onto plate, crust side up. Sprinkle with Topping. Pour remaining hot oil over sardines – enjoy the sizzle!
  • Serve immediately! Ideal served with crostini for the ultimate sardines on toast. See in post for side salad pairings.

Recipe Notes:

1. Sardines – For ease of use, quick cooking and to avoid the question of whether to eat or not to eat the bones (I eat them!), I’ve opted for sardine fillets here ie. butterflied open, bones removed. They are sold in packets at fish stores and at Harris Farms here in Sydney.Size – Sardines differ in size, I’ve used small ones. If you have larger, just use less sardines.Other fish that can be used for this recipe as written include – bream, flounder, herring, blue mackerel, river trout. They need to be fairly thin fish with a flat surface suitable for the crust to adhere. Use your judgement for quantity – enough for 2 people. Also the cook time will need to be adjusted for the thickness of the fillet you use.Whole fresh sardines suggestion – Make sure they are gutted and cleaned. Cut the head off if you want, I don’t. Sprinkle skin and inside cavity with salt and pepper. Line them up on a paper lined tray so they are just touching each other then sprinkle with plenty of the crumb (completely cover) and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 220°C/430°F (200°C fan) for 15 minutes (larger ones may need longer).Canned sardines – Though the recipe is not designed for canned sardines, here’s a suggestion for how to do so: drain sardines then half them horizontally as best you can and line them up next to each (they will break but that’s to be expected, we are just aiming for more surface area here). Sprinkle the entire surface generously with the crumb mixture, then drizzle with olive oil. Pop it under a grill/broiler for a few minutes until the crumb starts to go golden (it won’t brown evenly, sadly) then scoop it up with a spatula and place on grilled bread. Best sardines on toast ever!2. Panko breadcrumbs – Japanese breadcrumb favoured for the extra-crispy coating it gives crumbed foods. You can buy at most big supermarkets (Coles, Woolworths) in the Asian foods section and good grocers. Substitute with regular breadcrumbs if you can’t find it.3. Pine nuts – An idea swiped from Italian sardine dishes, because it just works so well with sardines.To toast – Preheat a small skillet with no oil over medium heat. Add pine nuts and cook, shaking the pan regularly, until it’s kissed with golden and it smells nutty. Remove from skillet immediately, let cool slightly then finely chop.Substitute with – almonds, macadamias or pecans.4. Anchovies – Adds depth of flavour and salt (but so much more flavour than just plain salt!). Does not make the crumb taste fishy, it just adds great savoury flavour. Substitute with 3/4 teaspoon of anchovy paste.5. Capers – Can substitute with finely chopped gherkins or even green olives, for a similar flavour effect.6. Crust – Sardines are pretty small and thin, so we don’t want to overwhelm with too much crust. Whatever adheres by pressing the sardines into the breadcrumbs is all we need (without oil or egg + flour for dredging).7. Nutrition per serving, assuming all the oil is consumed. I thoroughly encourage you to mop the plate clean with bread!

Nutrition Information:

Calories: 497cal (25%)Carbohydrates: 12g (4%)Protein: 20g (40%)Fat: 42g (65%)Saturated Fat: 6g (38%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 4gMonounsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 43mg (14%)Sodium: 554mg (24%)Potassium: 266mg (8%)Fiber: 1g (4%)Sugar: 1g (1%)Vitamin A: 298IU (6%)Vitamin C: 2mg (2%)Calcium: 370mg (37%)Iron: 2mg (11%)

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