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Pan-Fried Sardines with Fried and Salted Lemons
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lemons, thinly sliced, seeds removed, divided
1 tsp
ground sumac (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lb
whole fresh sardines, gutted and cleaned (they do not need to be scaled)
3 tbsp
olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
4 tbsp
(1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 c
fresh parsley or cilantro, tender leaves and stems
Flaky sea salt

Sardines get such a bad reputation for being fishy and fatty, but that’s exactly why I love them. It’s true, they are a fantastically oily, fatty, meaty fish, which means they are delicious! But it also means their quality deteriorates almost immediately once they leave the sea. That said, it is increasingly easy to find high-quality sardines, and when you see them, you should buy them and cook them. Preferably in lots of browned butter (fat + fat is always good) and tangy lemon (to cut through all that fat!), but don’t let me tell you how to live your life.


  1. Combine half the lemon slices and the sumac, if using, in a small bowl; season aggressively with salt and pepper-the lemons should be rather salty.
  2. Season the sardines with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet. Working in batches, add a few sardines-as many as will fit without being packed like . . . sardines in a can (sorry!). Using a fish spatula, press each sardine lightly into the pan to encourage even contact. After 3 to 4 minutes, flip them and cook on the other side, another 3 to 4 minutes. The skin should look browned and lightly crisped, the meat inside opaque and cooked through (they are hard to overcook, so when in doubt, it's better to cook them a little longer). Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate or platter and set aside.
  3. Wipe out the skillet, but don't worry about getting it super clean. Return it to a medium-high heat, then add the butter and let it foam and sizzle up, browning a bit in the skillet. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the remaining lemon slices, and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Cook until the lemon slices are browned and lightly fried, about 4 minutes, then remove from the heat. Arrange the sardines on a large serving platter and pour the browned butter and fried lemons over, followed by the salted lemon slices, the parsley, a sprinkling of flaky salt, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Reprinted from Nothing Fancy. Copyright © 2019 by Alison Roman. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Alison Roman

Alison Roman is a cook, writer and author of the best selling cookbook Dining In, published by Clarkson Potter in Fall 2017. Her second cookbook Nothing Fancy, comes out Fall 2019 and is available for pre-order now.