Oven-Fried Fresh Sardines
These protein-packed sardines may be small but they’re a powerhouse of anti-oxidants and nutrients — omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, B12 and calcium — making them ideal for stronger bone, joint and cardiovascular health. Relatively inexpensive, sardines are often referred to as kampong fish among locals. Its small size gives them one distinct advantage – their mercury load is low as they eat mainly plankton.
Instead of deep-frying sardines, this cooking method requires minimal oil while roasting in the oven allowing the natural oils to enhance the flavour of the fish.
Total Time: 1 hour
Serves: 5-6 persons
A: Prepare Sardines
1 kg fresh sardines, gutted and cleaned
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons oil, divided
20 stalks curry leaves
10-12 cloves garlic
6-8 chilli padi (bird’s eye chilli)
200g cherry tomatoes on vine, optional
C: To Serve With Sardines
1 fresh lemon
Cut fresh chilli in soy sauce
- Rub sardines with salt. Set them aside for 5 minutes, then rinse under running water till water runs clear. Drain and pat dry.
2. Preheat oven to 190C.
3. Pour 1 tablespoon oil over fish. Rub oil to coat each fish. Flip fish and pour another tablespoon of oil on them.
4. Prepare tomatoes. Using a sharp knife, make small crosses on the base of each tomato. This prevents tomatoes from bursting while cooking under high heat.
5. Line a baking tray with double layers of silicon sheets. Lay another 2 layers of baking paper on top of silicon.
6. Spread curry leaves, garlic and chilli padi on baking paper.
Lay sardines on paper in a single layer without overlapping. Add in tomato. Drizzle remaining oil all over fish and ingredients.
7. Place tray in oven to bake 10-15 minutes.
Check tomatoes. If they have softened and are slightly shrivelled up, remove from oven. Set them aside and drizzle with some olive oil.
8. Flip sardines over. Continue baking approximately another 10-15 minutes until fish is ‘fried’. If you prefer the sardines moist (meat flakes off easily), remove from oven.
9. Serve immediately with a squeeze of fresh lemon. If preferred, eat them with chilli padi in soy sauce. Sardines are best eaten while warm and still crisp. Once they cool down, they become chewy.
BUYING TIP: Choose sardines with bright eyes. They should be firm to the touch including the belly area. Look for the shimmer in the skin of fresh sardines
Do not buy sardines with “belly burn,” a condition where the belly is broken. They spoil quickly and are best eaten on the same day they are bought. To keep sardines fresh, place fish in a plastic bag sandwiched between ice and refrigerate until ready to cook.
You could try this recipe with canned sardines in oil or water. You may want to estimate the baking time, maybe between 7 and 9 minutes.
Photos: Lee Ming Tzyy