Steamy Saucy Sardines: The Shimmering Creatures of the Sea

By Imogen Tinkler on 16/02/2021

Shimmering its Scales on the Catwalk this week is the very Steamy Saucy Sardine.

Sardines are a pint sized fish that grow no bigger than 25cm. That doesn't stop them from playing a goliath role in marine ecosystems around the world from Peru to Philippines.

They are a sight to be seen in the Ocean. A School of shimmering Prince like elegant and magical creatures that as they perform the famous "Sardine Run" which is absolutely mesmerising.

Charlie Chapman wanted to cavort and spawn like a Sardine every morning rather than to be stuck in the ground like a carrot. We will delight you at the end - with this tail - as we put the saucy sardine to bed.

The Silver Sardine the Jewel of the Ocean and Land

They are the basis of food chains that feed the Giants of the Sea like Whales, Seals and Sharks. They provide food to communities on land and that is a healthy and affordable source of protein.


sardine portugal lemon beach

Sumptuous Sardine Suppers 

There are so many recipes from around the world as they take so many different flavours well. Maybe this is why mother nature made them so abundant?

Beautifully fresh and lightly fried in their oily juices or turn them into a flavoursome Sri Lanken CurryWhile in the Philippines they are often eaten dried and dipped in vinegar or fresh and simmered in a spicy tomato sauce for breakfast.

Or Duncan's Portuguese Charcoal Saucy Sardines. Cooked over charcoal using six ingredients - Sardines, Lemon, Garlic, Oregano, Butter, Olive Oil, Seasalt and Black Pepper. You can watch him make them over charcoal on our balcony in Portugal in 2017. These are some of the first ever lives we ever did with a tiny 12 week old Xanthe and all in under eight minutes!


Saucy Sardines cooked slowly with Duncan in Sunny Portugal.  

Sardines are in season from September until the end of February. So make the most of them before they strut off into the sea. They are really rather scrumpy.

Sardines Salt Plate

Ok they sound great! Are they sustainable in the UK?

Yes and no. You really need to know where you are buying them from and look for the blue tick, The Cornish ring-net fishery, The Bay of Biscay and the Southern Brittany purse seine sardine fisheries are also certified. You can also ask your fishmonger.

The Grocer reported this week that Fishermen urged supermarkets to sell UK caught sardines in their own label tins rather than fish from abroad. According to analysis by The Grocer a lack of a UK market means most UK fisherman export while unsustainable sardines are used in own brand canned sardines. Morocco is part of a fishery improvement project but the Cornish Sardine Fishery is the only MSC-certified stock in Europe.

A Lidl spokesman said: “Our tinned sardines are currently sourced from Moroccan fisheries due to the limited number of MSC-certified sardine fisheries in the UK. By doing so we are able to continue providing our customers with products that are great in value, high in quality and sustainably sourced.

A Co-Op spokeswoman said: “The Co-op is committed to responsible sourcing. All own-brand canned sardines are sourced and labelled to Sustainable Seafood Coalition codes of conduct and information about our wild fish sources is publicly available through the Oceans Disclosure Project.”

Fish Catch it Duncan A very Wet Duncan cooking on Ramsgate Beach, Kent.

Duncan's Fishy Facts

  • Sardine is a name of several kinds of fish, especially oily fish. Another name for these fish is Pilchard.
  • The most famous schooling sardines are found off the coast of South Africa, where they migrate in the famous "sardine run." This video is absolutely mesmerising!
  • Sardines are rich in vitamins and minerals. A small serving of sardines once a day can provide 13% of vitamin B2; roughly one-quarter of niacin; and about 150% of the recommended daily value of vitamin B12.
  • Sardines inspired the dish “ Don’t put the marmalade spoon in among the sardines”, based on the Book The Railway Children in the Great British Menu. 

History of the Saucy Sardine in the UK

N.B a Hogshead is 2,300 - 4,000 pilchards and filled with pressed pilchards weighs 476 lbs.

1750 - 1880  Pilchard fishing and processing became a thriving industry in Cornwall where they were mainly exported to Roman                          Catholic countries like Italy and Spain. 

1871             Cornish Catch 47,000 hogsheads 

1877             Cornish Catch 9,477 hogsheads

1997              Sardines from Cornwall Sold as “Cornish Sardines”
2005               Last Cornish Sardine Factory Shuts Down
2010               Under EU Law Sardines have Protected Geographical Status.

Sardines from Cornwall as an industry have been featured in lots of art work particularly by Stanhope Forbes and other Newlyn School artists.

Sardine Recipes We Love

Sri Lanken Fish Curry Recipe - a delectable mild lightly sour and deep aromatic yellow curry adapted from Yursra and Mohamed Ali Makim. It is oh so good and if you are wondering what the tamarind paste is. Have a look here.

We are working on a Saucy Sardine Fish Balls. So watch this space.

Store Cupboard recipe by Stephen Harris and owner of the Sportsman in Seasalter.

Now it is time to put to Saucy Sardine to bed. Listen to Charlies Sardine Song

Sardine Song

Music and Lyrics by Charles Chaplin

When I was three, my nurse told me
About reincarnation.
And ever since, I’ve been convinced,
Thrilled with anticipation
That when I leave this earth
It makes my heart feel warm
To know that I’ll return
In some other form.
But I don’t want to be a tree
Sticking in the ground
I’d sooner be a flea.
I don’t want to be a flower
Waiting by the hour
Hoping for pollens to alight on me.
So when I cease to be
I want to go back I want to go back
I want to go back to the sea.

Oh for the life of a sardine
That is the life for me
Cavorting and spawning every morning
Under the deep blue sea.
To have no fear for storm or gale
Oh to chase the tail of a whale
Oh for the life of a sardine,
That is the life for me.

When I’m a fish, it is my wish
For lots of recreation.
To drink my fill up to the gill
With no intoxication.
I want fun in the sea
Not in this world of strife
With its morality.
Give me the animal life.
But I don’t want to be carrot
Sticking in the ground
I ‘d rather be a maggot
Life without a will
Would surely make me ill
To get a little action I’d even be a pill
So when I cease to be
I want to go back I want to go back
I want to go back to the sea.

Oh for the life of a sardine
That is the life for me
Cavorting and spawning every morning
Under the deep blue sea.
To have no fear of a fisherman’s net
Oh what fun to be gay and all wet
Oh for the life under the sea,
That is the life for me.

Music and Lyrics by Charles Chaplin. Publisher: Bourne Co. All rights reserved.

Article written by Imogen Tinkler

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