Sardine Escabeche. What Say You?

French Fridays with Dorie

Sardine Escabeche Dorie Greenspan

Given my fondness for these tiny little herrings, I remain surprised by the polarizing effect of sardines. No doubt I will be astonished again today, this being French Fridays with Dorie and the assignment of the day being sardine escabeche. Witness Dorista after Dorista climbing the walls wishing they could make sardine escabeche sans sardines. You can’t. There is a good reason this recipe is happening during the very last month of this project! My only hope is that most will take a breath and confront their fears, even if they must do so while making grilled cheese sandwiches for their husband’s dinner.

It’s a good thing to love sardines. In fact, the world would be a much better place if there were more sardine lovers on the planet. Not only are they a protein-rich source of Omega 3 and Coenzyme Q10, they are also loaded with calcium, phosphorus, and iron. Even better, being lower on the food chain (small and maturing quickly) means that they are usually an ocean-friendly food choice – a sustainable catch whose fishing won’t negatively affect the environment.

But be honest with me though. When I first said “sardines” were you one of those who winced just a little bit and considered unsubscribing from my RSS feed now that I’m completely unrelatable? I’m sorry. I adore them. So much so, in fact, that my kitchen cupboards are stacked full with dozens of colorful sardine tins. Most were brought home from visited countries touching the Mediterranean, where if not the word’s best sardines are found, you can find sardines in the world’s most colorful tins.

Whenever I eat them straight out of the can I still never fail to recall the colorful French market we handily converted a fresh baguette, a hunk of cheese and a tin of sublime Rödel Sardines into one of the best lunches I have ever had. A respite from a dreary day is a mere pop of the tin and a glass of wine (or several) away. Enjoying sardines this way has been so easy for me that until this week’s Sardine Escabeche appeared on the Friday’s schedule I never thought to prepare my own.

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Sardine Escabeche

Sardines don’t have to be imported to be good. Domestically available sardines are delicious as well, and I have been known to keep a private stash at work for ‘protein emergencies. (I’m particularly fond of Wild Planet sardines (found at Whole Foods), a California provider specializing in the safe, sustainable fishing methods I like to associate with my sardine eating.) That said, if fresh tasting sardines are what you are looking for, well, then you have to buy them fresh and make them yourself.

Which brings me (finally) back to sardine escabeche. So what is it? While sardine escabeche is a popular French bistro dish it is more usually associated with Spanish tapas. The dish is characterized by its highly vinegared and aromatic marinade that ‘pickles’ the cooked vegetables that the sardines sit in while they cures for a day or two.  The dish is very easy to make once you confront your fish handling fears and learn to filet the little suckers.

Will you give them a try?

Sardine Escabeche Dorie Greenspan-3

Sardine Escabeche

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings

Serving Size: 2-3 Sardines

Sardine Escabeche

The original recipe can be found here.

The sardines are best served with plenty of grilled bread (to mop up the delicious marinade oil) and with lemons to squeeze over the top.

This is what you will need:

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour (to dredge the sardines before cooking)
  • 1 dozen fresh sardines, filleted with tails removed
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained & cut into slivers
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 ribs of celery, trimmed and sliced thinly
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • Lemon for serving

This is how you make it:

  1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add approximately two tablespoons of the oil. Dredge each fillet both sides in the flour, season with salt and pepper. Slip the sardines into the skillet after the pan and oil are hot. Do not over crowd your pan and cook the sardines in batches if necessary. Cook for two minutes each side. Flour should be lightly browned with the sardine meat just barely cooked through. Transfer cooked sardines to a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb the oil.
  2. Arrange the sardines in a gratin dish or glass pan neatly. Be sure to choose a pan large enough to hold all the sardines. Scatter the aromatic herbs and sun dried tomatoes over the sardines.
  3. Clean the skillet and add two more tablespoons of oil. To the hot pan add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook for ten minutes or until the vegetable are nearly cooked through but not browned. When they are cooked add the remaining olive oil (3/4 cup) to the pan along with the pepper flakes, tomato paste and vinegar. Gently stir with spoon to mix the ingredients while it comes to a simmer. You can adjust the seasoning here with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Pour the hot mixture over the sardines and smooth around if necessary to make sure that everything is covered in oil and evenly distributed.
  5. Let dish come to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate in refrigerator for at least six hours. Overnight is best.
  6. Serve with lemon wedges and plenty of bread. Sardine escabeche will keep up to three days covered in the refrigerator.



This Sardine Escabeche is an assignment for French Friday’s with Dorie, a cooking group working its way through Dorie Greenspan’s culinary tome “Around My French Table”. We generally avoid including the recipes in our posts. However, wherever there has been a significant adaptation by me or where the recipe has already been publicly posted by Ms. Greenspan or her publishers or by hundreds of other bloggers, or it is, in fact, not much of a recipe at all but rather a methode, I will either include it here (adapted) or provide a direct link to it. Please feel free to contact me via the link provided on my page if you need any assistance finding a French Friday with Dorie Recipe. You should buy the book though.

About Trevor Kensey

To be truthful, I don’t know what “Sis. Boom. [blog!]” means either. The name implies something explosive just happened I suppose I would like it if each post would make made a small ‘boom’ in your day or at least a fizzle. Even though a recipe is included with every post I have a hard time calling this a “food blog” or even myself a “food blogger”.

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  1. I am in awe of your ability to make this dish look pretty. Your description of your Paris lunch makes me want to race out for a tin of sardines, cheese and a baguette. This dish was OK – I didn’t love it, but it was tasty enough.

    • Being physically IN Paris has a lot to do with sardine enjoyment if you ask me. It cannot be denied. Thank you for your words on the photographs. That means a lot!

  2. LOL I mean, I made this (well with some help for the fileting) but *I* was the one eating grilled cheese for dinner (actually soup..). I couldn’t exactly skip out on a recipe at this stage, right? Mr Neil is a big fan of sardines although the fileting didn’t look like much fun. Your dish is so pretty!

    • You are certainly up to the task of making the assignments work for you! One more such challenge to go I guess! Filleting wasn’t the most fun I’ve had but its not has difficult as I originally imagined. That said, I wasn’t talked out of the can variety by a long shot.

  3. I have a stash of sardines in my pantry, too—and I haven’t purchased Wild Planet’s but I will check them out and compare to the Bela brand I favor. Yes, I agree with Gaye, your photos are magnificent!!

    • Thank you. More than most I really wanted to show this dish off properly and to convey the romance I can’t help but associate with these tiny fishies. I loved them but not enough to say goodbye to my tins!

  4. Seeing your results and reading your post makes me wish I loved sardines! Your photos and presentation are magazine worthy! I just can’t eat sardines…it’s the smell. Yet the men in my house do like them. My son-in-law used to share his sardines with my then 2 year old granddaughter…she loved them!
    Happy Friday Trevor!

  5. I really can take sardines or leave them. You are so right that they are amazing in the Mediterranean. Your love of these bony little darling really comes through in your preparations of this dish. I am such a fish lover, but they just seem like too much work for me.

    • Yes, a bit more work than popping a tin and its not a preparation I will make a regular occurrence, that is for sure. California has its own sardine harvest but they still can’t compete with the zing of a Portuguese species!

  6. Are fresh sardines widely available in fish markets? I have not noticed them too much. Can any other fish be substituted for the sardines? This dish sounds and looks absolutely wonderful! I am also a ‘eat fish out of a tin’ person…Smoked oysters, anyone??!!! Thank you for this recipe and beautiful pictures! I agree, BEING in Paris or any other romantic city has much to do with it!

    • Chris, they are widely available usually. I found them at the local Japanese market where, evidently, they go through shipments of them daily…which made me feel good for their freshness as I never could get an answer on where they came from. Oooh, yes. Oysters from the tin! Me wants!

  7. When Jim and I visited the South of France back in the day, (1995) he tried sardines anyway he could get them.
    He knew there was no chance at home. I really wanted to replicate the recipe but could not locate sardines.
    I used shrimp and they were good, great pickings with a glass of wine. Your photos look great with the bread for dipping, and a slice of lemon. Beautiful!

    • Nana, the bread was the best part. lol. I’m not sure what that says but I so loved soaking up the delicious marinade with it that the sardines became something of a secondary consideration. A ways to a mean? lol.

  8. I am a Dorista who wanted to make this AVEC sardines. It took me a while to locate some, but I did. I am glad I tried them this way. I learned that I prefer them grilled or canned, but pickled? Not so much. I did love the veggies though, and the bread dipping.

  9. I, too, am someone who wanted to make it with sardines but didn’t have the time to go anywhere other than my (usually) well-stocked fish market. Sigh. I also agree that the world would be a better place if people ate sardines AND I love Wild Planet sardines (get them from Amazon for really cheap!). Anyway, looks great and next time I see sardines at the market, I’ll try this dish. The oil with the bread is SO good. mmmmm….

  10. Mary Hirsch says:

    I hang my head in shame. I have no sardine tins in my pantry nor sardines in my future. I just checked out my pantry and I have Polar salmon fillets in a tin (product of Germany) and a tin of Chicken of the Sea fancy smoked oysters. I have a feeling they have been sitting there a very long time. The thing about sardines, however, is that they would be a great and easy meal to take for lunch when I am out hiking for the day. Like everyone else, loved your photos. And, will pick up some sardines from Whole Foods and at least have them on hand. That’s a start.

  11. The great sardine defender:-) I will admit that I never really encountered them until moving accross the pond, but I have become a convert and now my pantry is stacked with them. Still, this was my first time preparing a recipe from fresh sardines and I’ll definitely try them again. There’s a grills sardine recipe in one of my Nigella books which looks pretty tasty as well.

    I wonder if part of the reason that they are more common here is because we are a little further north, which means that we get even less sun in the winter, and therefore sardines are recommended for their vitamin D benefits.

  12. Ah another tin eating sardine lover. You make me almost want to try them. Maybe the next time I am in Europe I will give it a go.

  13. Sardines definitely have a bad reputation. But through FFWD I have learned that they aren’t so bad. I have a tin of sardines in the pantry. This post makes me want to break them out and enjoy a protein-rich lunch or snack!

  14. If nothing else does, that last photo of yours could get anyone in the world to eat sardines.

  15. I really would have tried this had I been home. I love fish. Your photos are just stunning!

  16. Beautiful photos Trevor! I was almost lulled into a false sense of security, in a dream like state …Gazing intently upon your dish I could imagine a taste a bite of shrimp, scallops or even white meat chicken on my fork..but no it was definitely sardines ( sardines, pork and beans..old high school cheer) and I snapped back to reality. I don’t hate sardines but left to my own devices, would never seek them out :). Congratulations on the countdown to finishing up the AMFT…so cool 🙂