Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Oven baked marinated sardines with chermoula sauce

I’ve said it so many times before on this blog; I love eating fish. I could probably eat fresh fish every day if I could.

I particularly enjoy oily fish like mackerel, herring and sardines because of their strong, almost meaty flavor and the fact that they can stand up to bold flavors. They’re not easily overpowered by spicy and piquant ingredients like chilli or garlic —two ingredients that are always present in my kitchen and seem to find their way in many of my dishes— but rather shine even more because of them.

I used to prepare sardines on the grill or the barbecue, very simply, the classic Greek way with olive oil, lemon juice and fresh or dried herbs, but then I realized there’s so much more I can do with them. A shining example is this dish in which the sardines are marinated in half of a chermoula sauce, are then baked in the oven and served with more of the raw chermoula on top.

Chermoula is a Moroccan - North-African spicy, but not too spicy, herb sauce that is traditionally paired with fish. It’s a fresh and pungent sauce that can be used to marinate proteins but can also be served raw as a condiment on top of fish, meat or vegetables, or even as a dressing for salads.

The basic ingredients of chermoula are fresh parsley and coriander, cumin, paprika, ground chillies, lemon, olive oil and garlic, and there are chunky and smooth like paste versions of it. This one is a chunky one and works best with small fish like sardines. I always prefer the small ones, those we get in Greece that are two-bite-sized, and not the large ones that you need to debone in order to eat. The small ones are so much more flavorful and easy to enjoy. You just remove the head and tail and eat the whole thing.

The resulting dish is really special. You get the true, fresh flavor of the sardine with kicks of chilli and garlic, with the aroma of cumin and parsley wafting through your nostrils, tantalizing you, while the zing of the lemon lifts and brightens up the flavors. The lusciousness of the olive oil meets the healthy fat of the plump, glistening sardines with their soft and juicy flesh, and topped with some more fresh chermoula to accentuate the existing flavors, this becomes a heady, verging on addictive dish.

Oven baked marinated sardines with chermoula sauce
Adapted from Diana Henry

Even though traditionally chermoula includes fresh coriander, I have strong feelings against it, so I use only parsley. If you don’t have the same aversion to fresh coriander (you may know it as cilantro) as me, you may add a handful of it and halve the amount of parsley.

As I already said, I prefer eating small sardines as I find them more flavorful and easy to eat, but larger ones can certainly be used in this dish. They’ll just a take a little more time to cook.

Pair the fish with couscous, quinoa, bulgur or rice. Alternatively, serve with a big salad and fresh crusty bread to sop up all the delicious juices.

Yield: 4 servings (or 2 if you eat them just with salad)


for the chermoula
90 ml (6 Tbsp) olive oil (I use extra virgin in all my cooking)
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp sweet paprika (not smoked)
½ tsp dried red chilli flakes (I use Greek boukovo)
2 garlic cloves, mashed
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
Large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper (5-6 turns of the mill)

500 g whole, small sardines (about 28), scaled, gutted, rinsed and dried
30 ml (2 Tbsp) olive oil

Special equipment: large baking dish (large enough to fit the sardines in one layer), plastic wrap


make the chermoula
In a small bowl, add all the ingredients for the chermoula and mix well with a spoon.

Add the sardines to a large baking dish and top them with half of the chermoula sauce. Gently mix them with your hands so they all get coated with the sauce. Arrange them in the baking dish in one layer, wrap the dish with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to marinate for 1-4 hours.

Preheat your oven to 200°C.

Half an hour before you bake the sardines, remove them from the fridge to come to room temperature. Drizzle them with 2 Tbsp (30 ml) of olive oil, sprinkle them with a little salt and place them on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake the sardines for 12-13 minutes.

Note: If you are using large sardines (500g = about 8 large sardines), you will need to cook them for 15-20 minutes.

Remove them from the oven and serve topped with the rest of the chermoula.

The way to eat fresh small sardines: Cut off the head and tail and eat whole. I never take out the backbone because it’s soft, but you can remove it if you wish before eating.



  1. What a spectacular dish Magda - just beautiful. I adore sardines too, but I have to say anchovies are definitely my favourite - but they are so hard to get fresh in Australia. One to indulge in when visiting Greece!! xx

    1. Thank you so much! Yes!! I love anchovies too and I can find them so easily here, but I usually fry those, so I choose not to eat them that often. Sardines on the other hand are best when cooked in the oven.