When we fire up our barbecues seeking that aromatic smoky and charred flavor, most people don’t consider one of the most sustainable and healthy fish for a grilling candidate; the sardine! A summer favorite, sardines are found all over Europe but have been expanding their delicious reach around the US in recent years.
One of the most loved ways to consume these little fish is to serve them hot off the grill with rustic bread. The thick slices of crusty bread are used not only as a utensil to transfer those little fish into hungry mouths, but also acts as vessels to capture all the rich juices as they seep into it.
Traditionally grilled sardines are made simple with only a sprinkle of salt and a hot flame for seasoning, but this recipe is made even more enjoyable with garlic, cilantro, a squeeze or two of lemon juice, and a bite of spicy red piri piri peppers!
Grilled Piri Piri Sardines on Crusty Bread
- 8 Fresh Sardines head removed, gutted, cleaned
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2-3 piri piri peppers
- ½ bunch Cilantro
- 1 large lemon
- Olive oil
- Coarse salt
- 8 slices of crusty bread
Place the sardines in a shallow baking dish or tray.
On a cutting board, crush and mince the garlic cloves. Rinse the cilantro under cool water, shake off any excess water then lay it on the board, roughly chop it and mix with the garlic. Push the mixture to the side.
Cut the piri piri pepper lengthwise and scrape out the white membrane and seeds with the point of the knife, careful not to touch them with bare hands. Julienne the peppers into thin strips.
Open the sardines and stuff each with the garlic and cilantro mixture along with the piri piri peppers, reserving some of the mixture for the outside of the sardines.
Drizzle olive oil on top of the sardines, season with salt and the garlic/cilantro/piri piri peppers, cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice on top. Turn the sardines over and repeat with the other side. Cover and allow the sardines to absorb the flavors while preparing the grill.
Prepare the grill grate by oiling it before lighting the charcoal or a gas grill to create high direct heat. If using charcoal, it may take anywhere from 15-30 minutes before the coals are hot enough to cook the sardines over.
Remove the cover from the sardines and lay them on the grill once it’s very hot. Allow the sardines to cook and char on both sides; approximately 2-4 minutes each side. Transfer the cooked sardines to a plate with a metal spatula or tongs and cover loosely with tin foil to keep them from getting too cool.
Drizzle a little oil on one side of the bread and lay it, oil side down on the grill. Grill 2 minutes or until char marks form on the bread and remove.
Lay the cooked sardines on the grilled bread slices and serve immediately.
If piri piri peppers are unavailable feel free to substitute with fresh cayenne or other hot peppers, or dried chili pepper flakes.
To keep the heat elevated from the piri piri peppers, skip removing the seeds and just thinly slice them.
If you prefer to serve these in the most traditional way, feel free to grill them whole, otherwise, have your fishmonger clean them for you. If that option is not available, you can do it yourself and even learn how to filet a fish!
No available outdoor grill or barbecue? Use a cast iron grill pan on the indoor stove instead!
STEP ONE – PREPARE THE SARDINES
Put the cleaned, gutted sardines into a shallow dish.
STEP TWO – CHOP GARLIC AND CILANTRO
Crush the garlic with the flat of the knife, and mince. Rinse the cilantro with cool water and shake off excess drops. Roughly chop it on the cutting board and mix it with the garlic.
STEP THREE – CLEAN AND CUT PIRI PIRI PEPPERS
Lay the piri piri peppers on the cutting board and cut them lengthwise, then using the tip of the knife, scrape out the white part and seeds. Cut the peppers into thin ribbons. Be very careful not to touch the seeds or white part with bare hands, as they can cause a burning sensation on the skin.
STEP FOUR – STUFF THE SARDINES
Using your finger, open the sardines and stuff them with the garlic and cilantro mixture. Add in little bits of the cut peppers as well. Make sure there is some of the mixture and peppers left for the outside of the fish.
STEP FIVE – SEASON THE OUTSIDE OF THE SARDINES
Drizzle the olive oil over the sardines then add more of the garlic/cilantro/pepper seasoning on the outside. Sprinkle with salt and a squeeze of lemon. Turn the sardines over and repeat on the other side. Cover and allow to the flavors to marinate.
STEP SIX – PREPARE THE GRILL
Prepare the charcoal grill or gas grill by oiling the grill grate and heating the grill on high or allowing it to reach a high temperature. You can check the heat by placing your hand a few inches above the flame, and if after a count to 5-6 it’s just become uncomfortable, it should be hot enough.
STEP SEVEN – GRILL THE SARDINES
Lay the prepared sardines on the hot grill, allowing them to cook 3-4 minutes on each side. Char marks should have formed before turning them over and they will be done when poked they will feel fairly firm. If checking with a thermometer, they should reach 145F.
Transfer the cooked sardines to a plate and cover with tented tinfoil to keep warm.
STEP EIGHT – TOAST THE BREAD
Drizzle more olive oil on one side of each slice of bread and lay them, oil side down on the grill. Allow them to cook 1-2 minutes or until marks form.
STEP NINE – ASSEMBLE THE SARDINES AND BREAD
Lay the sardines on the grilled side of bread and serve immediately!
Grilled sardines are not only a deliciously healthy dish, but they are incredibly versatile when it comes to the components used to flavor them. If cilantro isn’t available, use anything from basil, to mint, to rosemary to make them more adaptable to the rest of your menu. Don’t stop at serving them in the summer either! Serve them in the fall, the spring, even in the winter with the flash frozen varieties available year round.
What is your favorite way to eat sardines? Is it’s a grilled version like this, or something new and exciting? Please let us know!