Ever since I can remember, my French-Egyptian mother used to give to me sardines as a snack. I never questioned them or her — in fact, I thought that the “petite fishies" (that’s what I called them) were a perfect treat. Sounds crazy right? I thought I was alone in my love for sardines for the longest time, but then New York City chef George Mendes, who recently opened a pop-up stand called 100 Sardines in Madison Square Park, told me that his love for sardines also began as a child.
"I really became addicted to them when I went to Portugal with my family as a child and had them at a street fair," Mendes says. "I was about 6 or 7 years old at the time and was so absorbed in eating my plate of grilled sardines that I lost my mother and my entire family. They later found me sitting on a tree stump eating the sardines."
So, what’s so great about sardines? Mendes and I are are going to break it down for you.
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1. They’re loaded with Vitamin B-12 and Omega-3 Fatty Acid
Sardines may be small but they’re super nutrient dense: just one small fillet in oil has about a fifth of the amount of B-12 most people should have in a day, according to the USDA.
2. They’re Sustainable and Inexpensive
"My dad’s family lived on a farm in Portugal and they were too poor to buy food, so they bartered their crops with fishermen and in exchange for potatoes or peppers or corn, they would get 100 sardines—that’s where the name 100 Sardines came from," Mendes says.
3. Grilled Sardines are a Perfect Summer Appetizer
"My mother always used to grill them really simply outside on the outdoor charcoal grill with bell peppers and those Kingsford coal briquettes," Mendes says. "They were constantly fed to me growing up and it became a staple."
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4. They can go fancy
"When I went to culinary school sardines were an ingredient that I already had in my pocket and throughout the years, I kept coming across them in haute preparations where the lowly sardine was elevated to a great status at places like Spain’s El Bulli," Mendes says.
5. They can stay casual
"At 100 Sardines, we’re serving a simple Sardine Toast," Mendes says. "I wanted to do something on bread, almost in paté form using both preserved sardines and fresh sardines. It’s more of a snack that can be eaten while drinking a beer."
6. You can eat them out of a can
Simply top toasted bread with oil-packed sardines, lemon juice, capers, and a hit of spicy Sriracha for an easy but sophisticated party snack.
7. Deep-fried Sardines are like Popcorn
Each bite delivers a crispy, salty, juicy mouthful—trust us on this one.
BAKES SARDINES IN PEPPERONATA
- 4 red bell peppers
- 1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons drained capers
- 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 8 whole fresh sardines, scaled, gutted, deboned
- Chopped fresh dill and grilled crusty bread (for serving)
Preheat broiler. Broil peppers on a broilerproof rimmed baking sheet, turning occasionally, until blistered all over, 8–10 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit 15 minutes. Peel, seed, and slice into 1/2”-wide strips.
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Reduce oven temperature to 450°F. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8–10 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, add tomato paste and sugar and cook, stirring, until tomato paste is beginning to darken, about 1 minute. Add wine and vinegar and cook, stirring often, until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Mix in roasted peppers, parsley, capers, and oregano. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Transfer pepperonata to a shallow 3-quart baking dish.
Season sardines inside and out with salt and pepper; lay on top of pepperonata. Drizzle with oil and bake until sardines are firm and beginning to brown, 15–20 minutes. Top with dill, drizzle with more oil, and serve with bread.