20 Best Uses For Canned Sardines

Smelly, oily, and tightly packed — those are probably the only things that come to mind when you think about sardines. Indeed, these tiny fish don't have much of a reputation stateside, but they're beloved diet staples in countries like Portugal and Spain. For that reason alone, it's worth looking at these often-maligned fish.

But we thought we'd illustrate our point rather than tell you why they're so good. To that end, we've compiled a list of unique ways to incorporate canned sardines into your cooking. From simple sandwiches and dips to gourmet tapas and grazing boards, canned sardines effortlessly elevate the flavors in whichever dish you create. If you keep an open mind and follow our recommendations, we promise you'll find a new appreciation for their mild fishy flavor, satisfying saltiness, and meaty texture. So, dig through your cupboards and brush off the dust, it's time to look at sardines in a whole new light.

Create an easy sandwich

We've all been there before — it's Sunday night, you're hungry, and you've got nothing in the house. Before you order Uber Eats for the third time this week, consider rummaging through your cupboards. If you're like us, there's a good chance you'll find some canned sardines lurking under the peas and cream of mushroom soup. Instead of ignoring them like you usually do, consider whipping up a simple, savory, sardine-based sandwich.

You only need a few ingredients to create this tasty sammie: canned sardines, bread, garlic, and olive oil. Start by brushing the bread with olive oil. Grill in the oven or pan-fry until the oil is absorbed and the bread has browned. Rub some chopped garlic over the surface and finish by mashing some sardines on top.

Change up your pasta

You're probably used to adding meatballs or chicken to your pasta, but why not switch up your proteins and try some canned sardines instead? Thanks to their mild fishiness and moderate saltiness, sardines pair seamlessly with pretty much any ingredients you have around the house. Some of our favorites include a quick lemon, kale, and sardine pasta and a no-brainer cherry tomato and sardine spaghetti.

But our ultimate favorite remains chef Fabio Trabocchi's take on pasta con la sarde. This classic Sicilian dish combines bucatini, sardines, Espelette pepper, almonds, and dill to create a dish that tastes way more complicated than it is. To make it, flay sardines in tomato sauce from head to tail. Next, cook garlic, Espelette, and sardines in a pan. Combine cooked pasta, almonds, and dill with the other ingredients before finishing with lemon zest.

Upgrade your tuna salad

Tuna salad is one of our favorite never-fail recipes, but even an old standby deserves a makeover every now and then. There are all kinds of ways to elevate a tuna salad sandwich. However, one of our favorite ways to upgrade tuna salad is by incorporating sardines.

If that sounds ridiculously easy, it's because it is. All you have to do is add a couple of sardines to your canned tuna. Using a fork, mash the two fish together until blended. Add mayonnaise, onions, or any other ingredients you enjoy. This is a winning combination for a couple of reasons. For one, the oiliness of the sardines helps rehydrate the tuna. On top of that, sardines provide heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain calcium and vitamin D, both of which support bone health.

Make a sardine tartine

Everything sounds better in French, right? That's certainly true when it comes to tartines. In fact, a tartine is essentially just an open-faced sandwich. But don't be mistaken — this isn't your grandma's tuna melt. Rather, this sardine tartine recipe combines the tiny canned fish with crème fraîche, currants, pine nuts, and onions. The result is a colorful weeknight dinner option that looks way fancier than it is.

To make one, simmer white wine vinegar, sugar, salt, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes together until the sugar dissolves. Marinate the onions and currents in the vinegar mixture. While the flavors are getting acquainted, spread crème fraîche on hearty bread. Season with salt and pepper. Top with sardines, the onion-currant mixture, toasted pine nuts, parsley, and some lemon juice.

Try sardines on your avocado toast

Smoked salmon is pricey and anchovies are just way too salty. That's why we're casting aside these typical avocado toast toppers and choosing sardines instead. Not only do they have just the right amount of salt to complement the avocado but compared with other fish, they have a relatively small ecological footprint, especially in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

When it comes to nutrition, sardines are filled with omega-3 fatty acids, something that contributes to healthy brain and heart function. In addition, they're packed with vitamins D and B12, both of which are beneficial for your bones and nerves. If that's not enough to convince you, then let the taste win you over. Our favorite way to serve sardine avocado toast is by adding a runny egg, some tomato slices, and a bit of oil.

Mash them into butter

You may see butter as just a condiment, but for the French, it's an apéro-worthy spread. To create this cocktail hour favorite, you'll need European-style butter (the fattier, creamier, and saltier, the better), a can of sardines, a lemon, and some chives.

Let the butter soften at room temperature, then mash the sardines into it until combined. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and top with chives. Do like the French and use it as a spread on toast, crackers, or raw vegetables. If you want to serve something a bit fancier, consider topping butter-slathered toast with sliced radishes. Outside of cocktail hour, you can use your homemade fish butter on sandwiches in place of mayonnaise or mustard. It also tastes delicious when melted over asparagus or green beans.

Roll them into fish balls

Move over meatballs, albondigas de pescado (literally fish meatballs) are where it's at. Instead of ground beef, this Mexican-inspired recipe uses canned sardines as the base. To create this unique take on meatballs, combine canned sardines with breadcrumbs, yogurt, egg, and spices (Old Bay, chili powder, salt, and red chili pepper flakes) in a food processor.

Form balls with a scoop or your hands and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes before broiling. Once your fishy meatballs attain a perfect brown color, serve them with a homemade tomato dipping sauce as a unique appetizer. Alternatively, you can stir them into spaghetti and marinara sauce for an unexpected take on an old classic. However you eat them, these fish meatballs will satisfy seafood lovers and carnivores alike.

Try a canned sardine crumble

We've all heard of dessert crumbles, the tasty treats that combine fruit, flour, and butter. But have you ever tried a savory crumble? With their delightful flavor and built-in cooking container, canned sardines are the perfect base for this cozy dish.

Start by removing and draining the sardines from the can (but keep the oil). Use a fork to mash the fish, then return it to the tin. Combine the crumble ingredients (cubed butter, flour, almond powder, thyme, lemon zest, and salt) and pour over the mashed sardines. Bake the can for 15 minutes in a 340-degree oven. Serve with a side salad to make it a complete meal. And don't forget the sardine oil. Combine it with salt, pepper, and vinegar for a fishy vinaigrette that perfectly complements the crumble.

Whip up a sardine pasta sauce

If you've been paying attention, then you know how much we love adding canned sardines to just about every pasta dish known to man. Still, we recognize that some people might feel squeamish seeing sardines on top of their spaghetti. Thankfully, there's a more subtle way to incorporate them into your tried and true Italian dishes — by adding them to your pasta sauce.

To create this fishy sauce, heat the oil from a can of sardines in a pan. Add garlic and chili and cook until fragrant. Stir in tomato purée and sardines. Combine with cooked spaghetti and finish with freshly ground pepper, lemon juice, olive oil, and a couple of basil leaves. The final product looks just like your favorite marinara, but the taste is unlike anything you've ever had before.

Add them to a grazing board

Cheese and charcuterie boards are great, but they can get a bit monotonous if you're not careful. One way to infuse some newness into your appetizer spread is by adding canned sardines to your go-to ingredients. Or, you could replace the meat altogether and serve several types of canned seafood in its place. Plan on serving sardines with at least two other seafood options, one smoked and one shellfish.

Accessorize your seafood with a couple of pickled items such as cornichons or capers. The acid and vinegar in these items help turn down the fattiness of your main ingredients. Add some freshly chopped herbs (dill, chives, and parsley work well), and a spicy ingredient to finish off the experience. Serve with a few crunchy options such as crackers, cucumbers, or crostini.

Use them to make salad dressing

Not only can you hide canned sardines in pasta sauce, but you can also sneak them into homemade salad dressing. One way to whip up a tasty dressing is to boil sardines with white wine vinegar, cloves, bay leaves, and some white wine. Keep the ingredients on heat until the sardines break down. Let cool and serve with your favorite salad.

Another option is to use a food processor to blend sardines, spices (oregano and garlic powder), sardine oil, Sriracha, and anchovies. With all of the other ingredients, you won't even taste the sardines. In fact, the anchovies give this hearty dressing a flavor that's slightly reminiscent of Cesar dressing. Serve on top of a simple salad of romaine lettuce, feta cheese, and tomatoes.

Stir up a paleo-friendly sardine dip

Just because you're following a paleo diet doesn't mean you can't enjoy party snacks. And wouldn't you know it? One of our favorite paleo-friendly appetizers includes sardines. That makes sense, considering one tenet of the paleo diet involves eating fish, like sardines, that are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

This dip combines canned sardines with diced cucumbers, red bell pepper, and green onion. All you have to do is mix all of the ingredients together and finish with a squeeze of lemon. Serve alongside cucumber slices and plantain chips. Not only is this sardine-based dip full of flavor, but it has all kinds of protein. In fact, just five small sardines contain 14.8 grams of protein. Give it a try and indulge guilt-free at your next gathering.

Try sardine-stuffed avocados

Who says avocados are just for toast? Rather than mashing them into bread, try stuffing them instead. We especially love filling avocados with sardines. Not only do the flavors complement each other perfectly, but the combination of sardines and avocados will keep you full for hours. The sardines are full of protein, while the avocados are high in fat and fiber. Translation? You'll be so full, you won't need an afternoon snack.

The first step in making this healthy dish is removing the avocado pit. Next, combine canned sardines, mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives, and turmeric. Replace the pit with your sardine mixture, add a squeeze of lemon, and finish with a bit of salt. Eat alone, or serve on top of a bed of greens.

Indulge in sardine croquettes

Whether eaten alone as an appetizer or with a salad as a main dish, crispy croquettes are welcome at any time. You're probably used to ham or potato croquettes, but with a dish this tasty, why limit yourself? Once again, sardines are a simple recipe substitution that will change the way you look at croquettes.

You can combine canned sardines with butter, shallots, spices (chili flakes and dill), flour, and milk. Cook the ingredients together, then chill in the refrigerator overnight. To make the crust, combine parmesan, breadcrumbs, and black pepper. Dredge the sardine mixture in flour, then coat with egg before pan-frying in oil. Serve alongside a lemony aioli or with a simple salad of lettuce, new potatoes, and lemon juice. However you choose to eat them, you won't believe how tasty these fishy fritters are.

Experiment with Mockba pizza

Moscow might not be as well-known for its pizza as say, Milan, but don't count it out. The Russian capital's version, also known as Mockba pizza, is laden with four types of canned fish and served cold. Sardines, tuna, mackerel, and salmon are the starring ingredients but the roe, onion, Italian herbs, and mozzarella cheese are also essential components of this pie.

Although the toppings are probably nothing like what you've tried before, the Italian-herb-infused tomato sauce and dough are remarkably similar. That might be a small comfort when embarking on a culinary adventure as crazy as this one, but we beg you to give it a try. The combination of the salty fish and the classic pizza base creates a flavor symphony seafood lovers all over the world can enjoy. As for serving it cold, well, that part is up to you.

Replace tuna with sardines in a Niçoise salad

The French aren't exactly flexible when it comes to experimenting with their beloved cuisine. That's especially true when the dish in question is something as classic as Niçoise salad. However, we think they might be willing to forgive us for playing around with the ingredients in this meal-worthy dish just a bit.

A staple of Nice, France, Niçoise is a composed salad that features potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, green beans, tomatoes, black olives, capers, and canned tuna. We like tuna just fine, but it tends to be a bit dry, especially the water-packed variety. To fix this issue, and to give your salad a bit of novelty, we recommend replacing tuna with sardines. Since the ingredients are so similar, you can use the same amount of sardines as you would tuna. As if that weren't handy enough, you can even use some of the sardine oil when making the dressing.

Put a new twist on eggs

Unless you're a true culinary rebel, there's a good chance that salmon is the only kind of fish you've paired with eggs. We're definitely not knocking this fabulous combo, but we are suggesting that you expand your horizons a bit. More specifically, we'd like to invite you to try mixing sardines into your scrambled eggs.

This fishy breakfast requires you to bake mashed sardines with onion, parsley, tomato, olives, garlic, and black pepper in a cast iron skillet for 10 minutes. Once the mixture is warm, crack several eggs on top (as many as you want). Cook in the oven for another eight to 10 minutes. Serve them with a touch of hot sauce or on top of arugula for a veggie-packed way to start the day.

Toss a few into a salad

You're already used to adding tuna to salads. Are sardines really all that different? Right, we didn't think so, either. Instead of falling back on the same old tired recipes, give your salads a new lease on life by swapping tuna for sardines.

These versatile little fish pair well with just about every salad combination you can think of. However, we're particularly fond of pairing sardines with Mediterranean-inspired flavors. For example, we like pairing sardines with potatoes, arugula, cucumber, black olives, cherry tomatoes, and orange bell pepper. Serve with a simple balsamic vinaigrette or experiment with a homemade honey mustard dressing. They also play well with the tomatoes, cucumber, and feta cheese found in Greek salads. Dress with a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and black pepper.

Change the way you look at fish cakes

For as long as they've existed, fish cakes have been used to camouflage leftover or poor-quality fish. That makes sense. After all, what food doesn't get better by adding potatoes, frying it, and serving it with mayonnaise? Traditionally, these tasty cakes are made with white fish such as cod, pollock, or haddock. These types of fish are firm and hold up well to pan-frying.

While purists will say that sardine fish cakes are a bad idea, claiming that they're overly fishy, we beg to differ. In fact, sardine fish cakes are a great way to sneak some extra nutrients into your diet, while still enjoying all of the delightful crispiness fish cakes are known for. Our favorite recipe combines sardines with shredded carrots, potatoes, onions, and flour. Serve with aioli and a green salad for a full meal.

Give your lox a run for its money

Few breakfast items inspire us more than lox bagels. The fattiness of the salmon, the creaminess of the cream cheese, and the freshness of the dill — has there ever been a combination as perfect as this one? We doubt it, but we're also willing to switch up our breakfast routine from time to time in the name of experimentation.

Instead of fresh lox, this swap involves mashing canned sardines with canned salmon. Slather the mixture on top of a cream cheese-covered bagel and finish with some lemon juice, fresh dill, and capers. While this substitution isn't the perfect stand-in, it is cheaper, easier, and faster to prepare than a standard lox bagel. So, why not give it a try? Your stomach (and your wallet) will thank you.

Static Media owns and operates Tasting Table and Mashed.