The Last Word (for now) on Sardines – Russ Parsons Has It

Still, there’s not much to it. Begin by laying the fish on a board and making a small cut on the dorsal side right behind the head and straight down through the backbone. Make another incision on the belly side just behind the front fins. Holding the fish under running water, gently twist the head from the body. If you do this right, most of the innards will come away with the head. Discard these.

Using the same small knife, cut a slit the length of the belly and rinse out the inside. Lay the fish on its back on the cutting board and make two shallow parallel cuts the length of the backbone. You’ll want to be careful not to cut all the way through the meat.

With your thumb and forefinger, grasp the exposed backbone near the tail and pull up, using the fingers of your other hand to hold the meat in place. The backbone and larger ribs should lift cleanly away, leaving you a neatly butterflied fish.

Finish the preparation by scraping away the black skin along the ribs and cutting away the rib endings on either side. There will still be some bones left, but these will be so fine they won’t be a problem. Do check to make sure all of the bones around the collar of the fish are gone

And then Russ sent along his recipe for Sarde in Saor, the classic Venetian sweet-sour dish that’s related to escabeche.  Russ says that the raisins and pinenuts are optional, that the way to eat it is on a slice of toast and that the traditional Venetian accompaniment would be a glass of a less Verdicchio.  Mille grazie, Russ.


From Russ Parsons and The Los Angeles Times

Makes 4 to 6 servings


2 pounds sardines, cleaned



2 pounds onions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup olive oil

3/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup white wine

1 bay leaf

1/3 cup raisins

1/3 cup toasted pinenuts

Heat 1/4 to 1/2 inch of oil in a large heavy skillet until it is hot enough that food sizzles when added to it. Lightly flour the sardines on both sides and fry in the hot oil until lightly browned, less than a minute per side. Using a slotted spatula, lift the sardines from the oil and drain on paper towels. Season with salt.

Drain the oil from the skillet, but don’t wipe it clean. Combine the onions and the olive oil in the skillet and cook over very low heat until the onions are very soft and just beginning to turn golden (not brown). This can take as long as an hour. Stir the onions from time to time, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any browned bits of sardine that are stuck there.

When the onions are soft and sweet, add the vinegar, white wine and bay leaf and increase the heat to medium. Cook until the liquid has reduced to a glaze. When you tip the pan to the side, there should be only a couple of tablespoons of liquid left. Remove the pan from the heat, discard the bay leaf, and stir in the raisins and pinenuts.

Arrange 1 layer of sardines in the bottom of a small baking dish. Cover it with a thin layer of onions. Repeat with the remaining sardines and onions, pouring any liquid that’s left in the pan over top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 days before serving.

Dorie Greenspan