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Wednesday 14 August 2013

Sluttishly Savoury: Grilled Sardines with Lemon Garlic Chickpeas & Couscous

Sardines are at their freshest best at the moment, and they are SO cheap. Four large sardines are about £1 in the supermarket, and probably less if you go to your friendly local fishmonger. Add chickpeas and couscous - not known for being bank-breakingly expensive - and some lemon, garlic, herbs and spices, and you've got a cheap, quick and easy meal bursting with flavour and health-giving delight.

If you're squeamish about gutting a fish, your fishmonger will prepare the sardines for you. But if you want to gut and clean them yourself, I've added some instructions at the bottom of this post. It's unexpectedly satisfying, in a Good Life/Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall/Intrepid Adventurer kind of way.

Grilled Sardines with Lemon-Garlic Chickpeas & Couscous (serves 2)
You will need:
  • 4 fresh sardines, gutted and rinsed, with any large scales removed
  • A glug of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 100g couscous
  • ½ tsp dried marjoram
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp flaked chillies
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 shallot, sliced (use ½ a red onion if you prefer)
  • Juice, pulp and zest of ½ an unwaxed lemon (save the other half to squeeze over the finished product)
  • Knob of unsalted butter 
  • 125ml vegetable stock
  • 1 handful flat-leaf parsley, torn (remove any large stalks)
  • 1 handful coriander, torn (remove any large stalks)
  • A sprinkling of pine nuts
  • 1 unwaxed lemon, sliced into discs
To garnish
  • More flat-leaf parsley or coriander
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • Salt and pepper
Make it!
  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 and find a small casserole dish or deep baking tray.
  2. Smear your gutted sardines with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a drop of oil in a ridged skillet and cook the sardines for about two minutes each side, until the skin is crispy and slightly charred. 
  3. In your casserole dish, add the chickpeas, couscous, marjoram, fennel seeds, paprika, chillies, garlic, shallot, lemon and butter. Pour over the boiling stock and mix well. Cover with clingfilm for five minutes.
  4. Once the couscous is done, taste it and season as required. Sprinkle in the parsley, coriander and pine nuts and stir well.
  5. Arrange the lemon slices over the dish, and place the sardines on top. Drizzle a little olive oil across the whole thing. 
  6. Bake, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes in the centre of the oven.
  7. Garnish with more herbs, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. 
How to gut a sardine
  1. Snip off its fins with scissors. 
  2. Examine the fish for large scales - if you find any, remove them by running a sharp knife against the direction of the scales.
  3. Using scissors, snip a straight line lengthways along the underside of the sardine, from the base of the head to the tail.
  4. Run the cold tap gently, and holding the fish over the sink, insert your thumb at the tail-end of the incision. Slowly push the guts up and out towards the head. It's gross, but over quickly! 
  5. Rinse the fish, inside and out, and place on kitchen roll to dry.


  1. This looks so good. I'm always a little bit scared of fish and seafood with eyes and skin, but now you've gone and made it look really tasty.

    1. Thank you! I probably shouldn't tell you that the eyes pop as you cook them.

    2. And that's why I'll stick to headless fillets.


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