Sardinas con Verduras

sardinas con verduras

Sardines and pilchards are part of the herring fish family Clupeidae (the UK classifies sardines as being young pilchards). These are an inexpensive and sustainable oily fish often served fresh and fried, or preserved in salt, olive oil, escabeche, etc. Sardine comes from the Latin sardina and Ancient Greek sardínē or sardínos, of Sardò, Greek for Sardinia, which had an abundance of the fish. “Athenaios quotes a fragmentary passage from Aristotle mentioning the fish sardinos, referring to the sardine or pilchard.” Some doubts have been raised about Ancient Greeks sourcing fish from an island 800 miles away from Athens, but they definitely had fish factories just across the Mediterranean, in Empúries (Cataluña) from the 6th Century B.C., so I’m quite sure that sardines would have been preserved in jars with oil or salt for export, just like anchovies were back then.

sardines cleaned

Sardines are associated with festivals in Greece, Portugal and Spain. In Portugal grilled sardines are cooked on the street at the Feast of St. Anthony and in Spain there’s a Burial of the Sardine fiesta, on Ash Wednesday, to mark the end of Mardi Gras. A large brightly coloured paper maché sardine is marched in a funeral procession, which culminates in it’s burning on a funeral pyre. Originally, back in the 18th Century, King Carlos III ordered barrels full of sardines, as a feast for his loyal servants, before the onset of Lent. Unfortunately the weather was extremely hot and the fish arrived spoiled. The smell was so bad that the sardines were ordered to be buried. In the 19th Century some students in Madrid started an annual satirical sardina funeral procession, symbolising abstinence and fasting. In Barcelona, the fiesta ends on the beach, with a communal sardine barbecue (la sardinada).

Cataluña has a national dance called the Sardana – this is danced quite slowly , in a circle to music played by a cobla of 11 musicians, 4 of the instruments played are double-reed woodwinds, which make the music sound quite Medieval. The dancers typically wear flat espadrilles (tied at the ankle) – they dance in a circle holding hands, moving left and right, with arms and hands raised. The Sardana comes from the Empordà region in northern Catauña, named after and containing the Ancient Greek colony of Empúries. There are unproven theories relative to the origins of the Sardana, which link it to the Greeks. Visually, it does look like dancers on some Ancient Greek pottery. I was struck by how similar the Sardana is to the Turkish Horon, danced by the Laz people in celebration of fishermen catching anchovies (hamsi) – see here at 55.35 minutes. The Horon is nearly identical to old Greek dances, symbolises fishermen catching fish in nets and the movements (albeit faster) resemble those of the Sardana. Sadly, the word Sardana comes from cerdana, as in coming from Cerdanya and not Sardinia or sardines, but I have just come across La Sardana de la Sardina – The Sardana of the Sardine!

Sardinas con Verduras receta:

5 Sardines
4 medium potatoes (sliced)
1 medium onion (sliced)
6 cloves of garlic (squashed and halved)
1 sweet pepper, any colour will do, (chopped)
1 small courgette (sliced)
1 medium tomato (sliced)
12 Kalamata olives
1/2 lemon thinly sliced
a splash of dry white wine or extra dry vermouth
a few torn basil leaves
a couple of sprigs of thyme
sea salt and cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

This is a simple Mediterranean method for cooking fish with vegetables. I often cook, bream, hake, mackerel and sea bass this way. Everything cooks in the same oven dish which can be scaled up for a dinner party, with all the prep done beforehand.


Preheat the oven to 200ºC, slice the potatoes and put them in an oven dish with about 1cm (1/4 inch) extra virgin olive oil. Coat the potato slices in oil and sprinkle on some salt, before putting them in the oven.

onion, garlic and olives

Allow the potatoes to poach in the oil for 20 minutes before adding the garlic cloves, olives and slices of onion. Put some olive oil on a plate to coat the onion slices beforehand.

orange pepper

After 10 minutes scatter a pre-oiled, chopped pepper on top – any colour sweet pepper will work – I had an orange one in the fridge.

courgettes with lemon and thyme

10 minutes later spread half a sliced lemon, a sliced courgette and a sprinkle of thyme on top. A little more salt wouldn’t go amiss.

tomato and basil

Again, 10 minutes later, arrange the sliced tomato with some torn basil leaves above the courgettes, with a little more salt and cracked black pepper.


…yet another 10 minutes later, it’s time for the final ingredient – the fish. Clean and oil the sardines first and splash them with a little dry white wine or extra dry vermouth. Season with salt and pepper.


Cook for about 10 – 12 minutes – perhaps one might pop it’s heads up to tell you that it’s ready! A larger fish will need about 20 minutes. It may seem like there’s a lot of olive oil in this dish, but in Mediterranean countries, olive oil is an ingredient and not just a cooking medium. Any leftover oil can be added to another dish as a flavouring or you can mop it up with some sourdough bread.


Serve with home made allioli and a glass or two of Blanc Mariner, from the Penèdes region in Cataluña.

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13 Responses to Sardinas con Verduras

  1. Eha says:

    Sardines and potatoes – heavens above, Mad, I was brought up on that ! Hmm – in the more ‘dull and boring’ North European way !! Besides teaching me more Catalan and other Mediterranean history you also provide a far more interesting and easy method of dealing with the small beasties or other kinds of fish in hand. Since my kitchen is only about 10 metres away from my work space the 10 minute interval ‘dance’ to add ingredients will provide necessary exercise to boot 🙂 !! Great . . . and have a safe and enjoyable weekend . . .

  2. jmcheney says:

    It sounds divine. And it would be a good mental workout for the forgetful aging brain (mine). No answering the phone or wandering out in the yard during an interval. And I like the not much to wash up part. Sometimes I feel a little like Greasy Joan keeling the pot lately. I thought of the Native Americans teaching the Pilgrims to bury a little fish with each corn kernel planted along the row to fertilize & help that stalk to grow strong & tall with many ears. Thank you for the recipe & all the interesting historical tidbits bits to enhance the pleasure of the dish. I’ll try it!

    • Audrey says:

      Yes . In New Zealand we bury fish heads and skin and bones of fish caught fresh and smoked and eaten hot from the smoker .. bury the remains in the vegetable garden ! The results are astounding . You are the first person I have met who knows about this .
      Maori know !
      Nice Sardines, Mad Dig ! X

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Judith – it’s quite a forgiving dish. The vegetables can cook for a bit longer without spoiling as long as you don’t forget the timing on the fish. I hope you enjoy it!

  3. Ron says:

    Another fantastic post that took me on a quest to learn more. First, I loved Nigel Slater and really enjoyed his Real Food Show, but never viewed his Middle East series. Not to worry, found them and will watch all. Then, you got me looking for more on the Horon dancing videos. Which ended up being a great hour spent watching the dance and listening to their music.
    Then, you show me a great recipe that I will be making, but I’ll be making it with the sardina’s close cousin the herring. Mostly because I’ve not seen fresh sardines here and secondly because we’re getting lovely, nice sized, fresh local herring just now in our markets. Thanks for the great diversion from the worries of the world today.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Ron – I’m glad you enjoyed it! Those three (I think) Nigel Slaters were very good, because the food he looks at is more unusual than most of the culinary shows. I was quite surprised by the Horon fishermen’s dance, because it reminded me so much of the Sardana. There may not be a connection, but the idea that they might be catching fish makes some sense.

  4. Karen says:

    My husband would love this dish as he really likes sardines. Alas, they are not to be found in our area so I will prepare this recipe and use sea bass. The potatoes at the bottom of the dish must be credibly good after soaking up all the flavors that drip down on them during the baking.

  5. Rick Sareen says:

    Hi Craig
    I gave it a go last night using sardines I got from here
    They are one of the outfits that have moved from supplying restaurants to the public. The quality is noticeably better than anything I can buy retail in London.
    I’ll send you a pic of the dish as I can’t post images here.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Very nice! Having lived down there I looked them up, they are in Indian Queens just off the A 30 – which make it easy for distribution.
      Mine were also Cornish sardines from Steve Hatt, whose fish beats most people in London.

  6. Pingback: Sardinas en Escabeche | Mad Dog TV Dinners

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