S is for Sardines (Sardinhas)

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I am continuing my A to Z of Portugal today with a subject close to my heart. So much so that it gets a post all of its own.

S is for Sardines.

A plate of chargrilled sardines, served with boiled potatoes and a simple salad, is the quintessential dish of the Algarve.

Inexpensive and available all year round, sardines seem to really be at their best from May to August, when they are more likely to actually be local. For the rest of the year they may well be imported or (worse) defrosted. If I haven’t got this season quite right, I’m sure someone will be along soon to correct me.

Sardines in Portugal
Sardines in Portugal

Although sardines are cheap enough to be regularly enjoyed in a restaurant, I have worked hard to get the hang of cooking them myself. There are, it seems, just a few simple rules:

1. Sardines should never be gutted. In fact, when we once asked for them in this way, we were met with utter refusal!

2. Seasoning is simple – olive oil and loads of sea-salt. Anything else is unnecessary – sardines have all the flavour anyone could ever need.

3. Sardines should be cooked on a hot barbecue and not for too long. Purists would say they should only go on a coal BBQ but I must confess that I regularly use my (well seasoned) gas Weber with good results.

Filleting sardines is quite an art, and I still have some way to go before I can do it Portuguese-style, which involves filleting each sardine atop of slice of bread before enjoying the fishy bread on completion. We have, however, graduated to a greater level of competence than we had on our first few visits to Portugal, when locals actually laughed at our long-winded and pitiful attempts.

The true star of sardine filleting has to be my mother-in-law. I’m not sure how she does it, but she is capable of leaving a plate containing nothing but perfect cartoon-style fish skeletons…and she’s not even Portuguese!

While on the subject of sardines, I should also mention the tinned variety. Portuguese tinned sardines are the best in the world. While they may not be quite as mouthwatering as a pile fresh from the BBQ, you need only accompany them with a couple of crusty rolls and a handful of tomatoes to create a bargain priced beach picnic fit for a king. In fact, it’s exactly what I had for lunch today.

If I’ve got you in the mood for Portuguese food, why not take a trip over to my Food and Wine Portugal blog, or buy this book, one of my favourites, which includes lots of mouthwatering writing about the country’s cuisine as well as some of my favourite recipes.

Piri Piri Starfish: Portugal Found

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5 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Yum. I had some Japanese friends here last year who managed to pull off the cartoon-style fish skeleton thing too…they need to offer a class on that.

  2. Ben, you are really making my mouth water now. We are over on the weekend and I think some barbecued sardines will be on the menu. I still havent got the knack of filleting them and generally spend most of my time taking bones from my mouth, but the end result is mostly worth it.

    I might even let the other half try and barbecue some himself as our local mini mercado now has a brand new wet fish counter.


  3. Hi Sarah,

    I don’t think I’ll ever manage the skeleton thing, I’m always in too much of a hurry to wolf through them!

    Hi Saz,

    Plenty of salt stops them sticking and I usually put them back in the fridge for 20 mins so they go on cold! Good luck!

  4. Hi,

    We’re having a big debate here at my in-laws (who are Portuguese). They say everyone actually grills the sardines with the guts intact. Is that actually correct, or are the Sardines gutted before grilling? Thank you.

  5. Hi Charlie,

    Thanks for reading. Guts are NOT removed – in fact in our early days of living here, we asked a fishmonger to gut them and were met with disdain and refusal!

    Best wishes,


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