Sardinhas assadas are a classic grilled sardines dish that is a traditional food from Portugal. This dish is a popular festival favorite and includes hundreds of salt-seasoned sardines cooked on an open grill during celebrations. Sardinhas assadas may be a simple dish but it is packed with bold, big flavor.
Sardinhas assadas in the Portuguese culture
Due to its geographic location along Western Europe’s Atlantic coast, Portugal is a seafaring country and is arguably the most well known sailing nation in the world. With this affinity and proximity to the sea comes a great love for seafood, which is embedded in the Portuguese food culture. And no other seafood embodies Portuguese cuisine like the sardine.
Sardinhas assadas is one of the most popular dishes in Portuguese cuisine and originates from the Lisbon and Vale do Tejo regions. The dish has been a traditional local festival food for saint celebrations for centuries, such as the festivals of John, Peter, and Anthony and the traditional sardine festivals that take place in the first 10 days of August. These festivals often feature hundreds of sardines roasted on a open fire grill inside specially made grates that make flipping easy. It is such a deep part of Portuguese culture that it is common to find grilled sardine festivals in Portuguese immigrant communities throughout the world.
Sardinhas assadas may seem intimidating but are exceptionally easy to make. After cleaning, the fish are seasoned with coarse salt and grilled on both sides for about 10 minutes. Sardines are typically served on top of a slice of bread, which soaks up the oily fat form the fish, which provides its distinctive flavors. They are often paired with a side of roasted potatoes and peppers.
What are the health benefits of sardines?
Sardines are small, silvery fish that travel in schools and provide one of the highest known sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The healthy fat found in sardines helps to reduce heart disease and has been tied to improved brain health. Sardines are also high in trace minerals such as selenium and are a good source of vitamin B12. The Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch suggests purchasing sardines from the US and Canadian Pacific reasons because of the threat to other sardine populations.
Sardines can be gutted, or “cleaned”, before grilling but many traditional Portuguese recipes also will cook the the sardines whole and removed the innards before eating. The bones of sardines are edible because they are very thin and brittle, but the harder and spiny backbone should not be eaten.
Sardines around the world
Many cultures around the world feature sardines, but nowhere are they more popular than in the Mediterranean cultures. The Greek have grilled sardeles, which are grilled and served with an herb pesto made with dill, parsley, and lemon. The Spanish have sardinhas a la parrilla, which are served with potatoes and a small side salad. And the Italians have sardine alla griglia, which are often served with in a light tomato and wine sauce. There is a also a very popular and interesting sardine dish from Morocco called sardines mariées (married sardines) which consists in 2 sardines in butterfly, that are stuck, then grilled together
Any which way you serve them, sardinhas assadas are a culinary adventure that will have you feeling like you’re at a café along the coast of Portugal.
- 2 lb sardines , gutted
- Kosher salt
- 2 lemons
- Oil (to grease the barbecue grill)
- Rinse the sardines thoroughly.
- At the bottom of a large dish, place a bed of kosher salt.
- Place the sardines on top and cover them with the kosher salt. Marinate for 1 hour.
- Grease the barbecue grill to prevent sardines sticking. Light the barbecue.
- Rinse the sardines and gently pat them dry them with paper towels.
Place the sardines on the barbecue, 2 inches (5cm) away from the embers.
- Grill on both sides.
- Enjoy the hot sardines drizzled with lemon juice and served with French fries.