16 Ways To Elevate Canned Sardines

Sardines are a quick and convenient canned good to always have stocked in the pantry. While canned sardines have been an accessible seafood option for quite a while, the tinned fish trend not only allowed more people to warm up to the idea of canned seafood but also gave more brands the chance to dive into the market. Some brands are affordable while others are pricier with ornate packaging. There are a lot of flavors to pick from too, such as no salt added, smoked, sardines tomato sauce, sardines packed in water, or different types of oil like olive or soybean. 

Although there are many brands and options available to purchase, sometimes it's easier to stock up on a plain or classic flavor and then upgrade it yourself. From plating them up on your favorite dishware to frying them up for a fish taco, enjoy these fun ways to elevate canned sardines. Sardines have nutritional health benefits such as calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D. Choose sardines when you want an affordable, nutritious snack, and then give it your own spin.

1. Play with fresh or dried herbs

We'll always advocate for utilizing herbs in your cooking. It's usually pretty affordable to have common types of herbs on hand, particularly if you find dried herbs in bulk somewhere. They can elevate just about any dish, canned sardines included. Stick to one or more a mix a few together to create a nuanced flavor. Dill, thyme, or rosemary can provide aromatic elements in addition to switching up the taste. They add a pop of color as well. Basil offers a slightly sweet taste that would go well with some freshly squeezed lemon. 

Parsley can give a slightly bitter taste that can balance the oiliness of the sardines and olive oil. Add one or two finely chopped sage leaves for a herby, peppery addition. Chop the fresh herbs so they can fully incorporate into your canned sardines. You don't necessarily want an entire sage leaf in one bite. When using dried herbs, start with less then add more as needed since they can have a deeper flavor, and you might be pouring out more than you would think.

2. Pour in a tomato-based sauce

Canned sardines come in tomato-based options, so you can create your own version with something like marinara, tomato sauce, or canned crushed tomatoes. The acidity pairs deliciously with the saltiness of the sardines to hit different parts of your taste buds. When using cubed or crushed tomatoes, mash them up a bit so the chunks aren't as large. Pour tomato sauce into a bowl and then put the sardines in with a fork so it strains some of the oil. 

Mix so your fish is fully coated and eat them cold, simmer them lightly for a warm dish. Eat them on their own with a fork or put them on a piece of bread. It's best to eat sardines with tomato sauce within a couple of days to ensure freshness, so serve these when you know you'll eat them up or when you're open to having them as leftovers the next day.

3. Mix sardines with avocado

Avocado and sardines make a beautiful pairing. From mashing to stacking, there are a couple of ways you can utilize these two together. Gather your avocado and sardines and mash them together for a fatty and nutrient-dense toast. Avocado contains fat, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K, folate, potassium, magnesium, and more, making it a nutritious addition to your meal. For a quicker method, toast your bread, spread your mashed avocado on, and then top with a sardine.

This creamy combination complements the brininess of the fish and the richness of the avocado. This is something you can just eat on its own with a fork, scoop it up with some crackers, or put it on a piece of bread. Keep it simple with the two items or add something like flaky salt, lemon juice, or capers. You can use whatever satisfying combination works for you. Sardines are among the best canned fish to add to avocado toast because they won't overwhelm the avocado with fishiness. 

4. Dress it with infused olive oil

Whether your canned sardines already come in olive oil cut it in oil or you got the water-packed variety, integrating an infused oil can give it a punch of flavor.  There are plenty of infused olive oils on the market but you can always make your own. Infuse olive oil with herbs such as basil or rosemary, try a bright lemon olive oil, or a potent garlic and truffle olive oil. Do a light infusion for a barely-there taste or increase the strength by adding more of your desired ingredient.

This luxurious method can turn even the most mundane sardine into a sophisticated delight. Lemon-infused olive oil can give a tangy citrusy note while chili olive oil can provide a touch of heat. Buy some at the store or get creative with the do-it-yourself version by infusing it with one ingredient on multiple. From sandwiches to salads, many of the best uses for canned sardines involve olive oil.

5. Add a spicy element

Many canned sardine brands have a spicy version that you can buy in-store or online with ingredients such as piri piri pepper or hot sauce. Each one ranges a bit in terms of spiciness and what ingredients are used, but the idea is the same: spice is nice. There are plenty of ways to add this element to your canned sardines at home and it can cut through the richness of the oily fish. If you are a heat lover, then you might prefer making a spicy sardine yourself since you can customize it.

Chopped fresh chilies or jalapeños can offer a textural element in addition to the spice, especially if you leave the seeds to raise the heat. Different types of chiles have nuanced flavors, remarkable colors, and different levels of heat. Mix-and-match chilies for color options like green jalapeños and red cayenne or the green, orange, yellow, and red range of Scotch bonnets. Avoid any chopping by squeezing in your hot sauce or use a sprinkle of red chili pepper flakes from your pantry.

6. Use your favorite dishware

Don't leave it in the tin — elevate canned sardines by plating them up. Whether you want to impress guests or want to make your date night at home more fancy, present your canned sardines in a new way to give them a level of sophistication and visual presentation. If you have nice dishware or fancy China, clean off that dust and bring it out from its display case. The point is to put it in a new vessel that's not a tin, so a regular plate or a bowl is just as effective.

Using a dish to give your sardines an upscale look doesn't involve a lot. It can be as simple as getting out your favorite plate or serving platter from the cabinet to plate it on. Place the sardines in a bowl with a slotted spoon so the oil can drip through or line them up on a plate, so you can see each one individually. Drain the oil and put it into a separate dish so each person can drizzle a little bit on their plate if they want.

7. Mash it into butter

Mash sardines into butter to create the ultimate French umami spread. This tasty duo combination turns into a savory spread that you can put on a piece of baguette, whole grain crackers, or pair with raw vegetables like sliced radishes. To get the desired consistency, grab a fork, sardines, and butter, and get to mashing until it turns into a paste. If you're using unsalted sardines, opt for salted butter or vice versa, either way, you'll want a salted element. Sardine butter is not only easy but versatile and it turns into a sophisticated dish that you'll feel accomplished to bring to a party. 

The fattiness of the butter pairs with the brine and umami of the sardines for an unforgettable spread. Add a bit of fresh cracked pepper or a squeeze of lemon juice to bring it all together. Store any leftovers in the fridge or freezer as long as you it's in an airtight container. The salty appetizer could even be used in place of mayo or mustard on a sandwich. 

8. Give it some smoke

Smoked sardines are not a new concept. Many canned sardine brands have them readily available for purchase, but you might not yet have them in your pantry. When you want to elevate canned sardines, integrating a smoky element can give it a scrumptious and fragrant upgrade. Canned smoked sardines get smoky in a couple of ways: naturally smoked via woodfire, such as Beechwood, or from smoked flavor. 

If you have a smoke setup at your home, you can certainly go that route. But if you're seeking a simpler method to get that smoky flavor try smoked salt, liquid smoke, or coconut aminos. Moderation is your friend as you determine how much to put in. The liquids can be powerful, so start with a couple of drops and give it a taste so you don't end up completely overwhelming your canned sardines. Give your fish a satisfying barbequed taste without having to turn on the grill.

9. Turn it into a sardine crumble

Save yourself some dishes by making sardine crumble in the tin can. You've likely had some sort of dessert crumble that uses a similar topping, minus the sweet and sugary aspect. You need butter, flour, almond powder, fresh thyme, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt to create this version. But like most things, you can always pep it up to your liking with anything from chopped walnuts to dried cranberries. You could incorporate some breadcrumbs into the mix as well for a slightly crunchy topping that will absorb some of the oil.

Mix and once you get the classic crumble consistency, spread it evenly over the open can of fish. Pop it in the oven at 340 F for 15 minutes until the crumble has a golden hue to it. Sardine crumble in the tin is a simple protein for dinner that saves you from having to wash a bunch of dishes after your meal. This would be ideal for a campfire meal too since it doesn't require lots of dishes and ingredients.

10. Channel tuna salad

People love tuna salad because you can make it to your liking, adding or subtracting ingredients as you please. Disgusted by the texture of celery? Bye bye. Can't get enough mustard? Add as much as your heart desires. The same concept goes for a sardine salad, where you can include things you want and get the exact consistency you prefer. Consider adding sardines to your tuna salad by doing a half-half blend with one can of tuna and one can of sardines or substitute tuna entirely by making it solely a sardine salad.

Mash the sardines in before mixing everything, so they're in bite-sized pieces. The oily sardines pair perfectly with the dryness of canned tuna, not to mention the two are nutritional powerhouses. The creamy mayonnaise, the slight tang of mustard, and the sweetness of the sweet relish, all work together to balance each other out. For a healthier alternative, try using Greek yogurt instead of mayo. Everything is cooked and ready to eat as it is so you don't have to heat it. Make a tuna and sardine salad the next time you have canned fish that you're not sure what to do with.

11. Add it to a grazing board

Grazing boards are enormous fun because no two ever look the same. Integrate tinned fish into your grazing board goodies along with meats, cheeses, and dried and fresh fruits. Each of these contributes its unique flavor and texture that allows your guests to help themselves. Pour out a couple of cans of sardines into a bowl with a fork or slotted spoon to place on your board. Since the fish comes packed in oil or water you don't want the liquid to seep onto the other snacks. 

Sardines work well with chutneys, mustard, infused oils, fresh herbs, and pickles. Soft cheeses like ricotta or goat cheese will spread easily and give the sardines a creaminess. Get creative with your arrangement and pairing choices. Turn it into a seafood platter by placing a range of canned seafood options like scallops, mussels, oysters, and salmon, in addition to the sardines. Include crunchy crackers to hold the fish and soft breads to soak up the oils.

12. Fry them up

When you conjure up an image of fried fish in your head, what do you see? Did you think of fried sardines? These fish are fantastic to fry up for a meal or snack. If you have the oil-packed variety, you can throw everything in a pan to fry and crisp up. But if you have water-packed, you may use olive oil or whatever you have at home. Grilling or frying sardines can complement their natural essences and give them a crunchy exterior. You can eat the whole fish, so you don't have to chop or gut it to prep it for cooking. 

Dredge the sardines or create a fish batter like you would for fish tacos. Make fried sardine fish tacos with corn tortillas, sliced cabbage, a squeeze of lime, and some hot sauce. Sardines provide protein, so sardine fish tacos are particularly alluring when you don't have fresh or frozen fish to work with. Compared to anchovies, sardines are not as pungent and don't have as much of a fishy flavor and scent, making them a more appealing choice for a fish fry.

13. Give mustard a chance

Mustard is another one of those popular sardine flavors that you can purchase ready-made. When you have a plain can in your pantry that you want to add more flavor to, just add a squirt of mustard. Simply add a bit directly into your can and then stir it up, or drizzle on top and leave it be. This gives complexity to the sardines, making a blend of oily, salty, tangy, and just a bit potent based on the mustard you use. 

Classic yellow mustard might not be as strong as Dijon or spicy brown mustard, but it will provide a bright color addition. Use whole grain mustard for some additional texture or add a bit of honey mustard for a sweet and tangy taste. The flavorful mustard and sardine combination is fabulous in a sandwich or to eat with whole grain crackers. Give your sardines a vibrant punch with a dash of mustard.

14. Chop up some olives for a tapenade

When you're in the mood for something satisfyingly salty, whip up an olive and sardine tapenade. The saliferous olives and briny sardines blend together to create a chic tapenade that tastes like something you'd order as an expensive appetizer at an upscale restaurant. Chop the Kalamata olives and mash the sardines until they create a paste-like flexibility. This is the base of the tapenade, which you may leave as is or add other elements, such as capers for a pop, lemon for brightness, or double up on the canned fish and go for some tinned anchovy or tuna. 

This rich spread melts in your mouth thanks to the paste texture. For a chunkier version, leave the olives and sardines in larger pieces so they resemble the texture of a tuna salad. Serve on saltine crackers, sliced baguette, or placed into the crevice of celery sticks. This is a speedy side dish that can enhance any gathering. Turn the tapenade into easily accessible hors d'oeuvre by placing it on a toasted slice of baguette, then top with freshly cracked pepper and a couple of capers.

15. Intensify the umami taste

The salted brine of canned sardines has an umami taste, but you can choose to boost this particular flavor profile with some other ingredients. If you're unsure of the difference between salty and umami, it boils down to nuance. Umami has a complex, savory taste that comes from the amino acid glutamate, but in the end, salty and umami are partners in crime. Find umami in soy sauce, miso, bonito flakes, shitake and porcini mushrooms, seaweed, and truffle oil, among other foods. 

Drizzle truffle oil onto your canned sardines to give them a luxurious and notably earthy scent. Chopped mushrooms, like shiitake or porcini, enhance the meatiness of the texture while contributing depth to the sardines. If you're in a rush, we recommend fresh mushrooms as dried might be a little hard to chew. When you have time to let them sit, dried mushrooms work as long as you allow them to absorb the oil and liquid. Add a few small drops of soy sauce or a smidge of miso paste to your sardines to give it a flavor boost. Add a small amount at a time since these are potent and can overwhelm your fish. 

16. Enjoy it with pasta

Canned sardines make a mean addition to your pasta dinner. From mashing it up into a fine paste to leaving it whole, there is more than one way to elevate canned sardines for your meal. Squash up a can of sardines to couple it with your favorite pasta sauce, whether that's marinara or Alfredo. The sardine paste blends into the sauce to create a satiating salty mixture that you can easily pour onto your pasta of choice. For tomato-based pasta dishes, use sardines in tomato sauce to enhance the flavor with minimal extra steps. 

Sardines supply your pasta with protein so you can include any vegetable to create a balanced meal. You can't go wrong with grilled broccoli, asparagus, or wilted spinach. Take out the guesswork, and follow a recipe such as almond, dill, and sardine bucatini, which has an extraordinary balance of consistencies. Pasta and sardines are both pantry staples that, when paired together, can turn humble ingredients into a sumptuous meal.