Sardine Toast

spicy piri piri sardines with cultured butter, fennel, parsley and lemon

Tinned fish is having a moment. Since it has become a bit of a viral hit on social media #tinnedfishdinner, it’s all over the place. Before, I was able to get the usual canned tuna, anchovies, or standard sardines packed in oil, water, or yellow mustard. I will always have a place for canned sardines in mustard in my pantry; it was the only variety I would eat as a kid. But now, I can literally go to my corner store and pick up a can of tinned octopus or mussels, not to mention the variety of specialty sardines available at larger markets, like the Reading Terminal here in Philly, where these Matiz sardines are from; they were a Christmas present from my husband. He knows me well.

There are lots of other great sardines available, from classic centuries-old canneries in Portugal that produce sardines for brands like Nuri and Jose Gourmet (my favorite sardines at the moment) to newer, exciting takes on canned fish from brands like Fishwife or Scout. And then there’s the good old King Oscar, generally available in most grocery stores and totally delicious. So, pick one depending on your taste and what’s available. Any good can of sardines will work for this recipe. Just a note, I prefer a larger pilchard here versus a tiny little bristling sardine. I want a big split filet on my toast. But choose whatever you like, or try something new.

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Canned Sardines Sardine Toast with Fennel
Tinned fish is having a moment. Since it has become a bit of a viral hit on social media #tinnedfishdinner, it’s all over the place.
Sardine Toast Recipe
Tinned Sardines
Sardine Toast
Sardine Toast Detail
How long have canned sardines been around?

Sardine canneries have a long history that dates back to the 19th century, primarily in regions where sardines were abundant, such as Mediterranean countries and parts of the Atlantic coast. The canning process was developed as a way to preserve sardines, which are highly perishable, and make them more accessible for consumption in areas where fresh sardines were not readily available.
One of the earliest recorded instances of sardine canning occurred in France in the early 19th century, where sardines were packed in oil in tin-plated steel cans. The process was later refined and popularized in other countries, including Portugal, Spain, and Italy, where sardines are a staple of the cuisine.
The popularity of canned sardines grew throughout the 20th century, as they were affordable, nutritious, and had a long shelf life. However, overfishing and environmental factors have led to a decline in sardine populations in some regions, impacting the sardine canning industry. Despite this, sardine canneries continue to operate in many parts of the world, preserving a tradition that has been a part of coastal cultures for centuries.

What are some popular brands of canned sardines?

Conservas Ramirez is a renowned Portuguese brand known for its high-quality canned fish products, including sardines, mackerel, and tuna.

Nuri is another popular Portuguese brand that specializes in canned sardines. They offer a variety of flavors and packaging options, such as sardines in olive oil or tomato sauce.

Jose Gourmet
Jose Gourmet is a premium Portuguese brand that offers a range of gourmet canned fish products, including sardines, mackerel, and octopus.

King Oscar
King Oscar is a Norwegian brand known for its canned seafood, including sardines, mackerel, and herring. They are known for their high-quality products and traditional recipes.

Matiz is a Spanish brand that offers a range of gourmet canned seafood products, including sardines. They are known for their high-quality ingredients and traditional preparation methods.

These brands are just a few examples of delicious canned sardines available. Each brand has its own unique flavors and styles, so it’s worth trying a new one when you see it.

What is a sardine?

A sardine is a small, oily fish that belongs to the herring family, Clupeidae. They are known for their silvery skin, soft bones, and rich, flavorful flesh. They are typically found in cans or jars, packed in oil, water, or sauce and are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. 

In terms of taste, sardines have a distinctive flavor that some people describe as fishy or briny. But that can all depend on how they are prepared, whether that’s simply smoked and packed in oil, or a more complex sauce like a spicy tomato sauce or mustard.  

Why does my can of sardines say “Pilchards”? Or, “Bristling Sardines”? What’s the difference?

Pilchard,” “sardine,” and “bristling” are terms that are often used interchangeably to refer to small, oily fish belonging to the herring family (Clupeidae).

In some regions, particularly in Europe, the term “pilchard” is used to refer specifically to the European pilchard (Sardina pilchardus). When you see a can labeled “Pilchard” you can assume you’ll be getting a larger sardine and there will usually be only 3 or 4 fish in the can. I find them ideal for this recipe since it’s nice to have a larger split filet on the toast.

The term “bristling” is sometimes used to refer to a specific species of fish, the European sprat (Sprattus sprattus). Bristling are small, they are also sometime labeled as Sprats. There will be quite a few in a can, maybe like 8 or more depending on the size. These are what you can think of as a bite-size sardine. 

Why am I eating these canned and not fresh? I don’t know if I’ve even seen a fresh sardine?

There are kinda two main reasons for this. The first being that they’re a very fatty fish. Very high in omege-3s, which is what gives them their great taste, (and health benefits), but it also causes them to spoil very quickly.

The second is that there isn’t much demand for them fresh. They are a pretty “fishy” fish, and a lot of people arn’t that into “fishy” fish. So, that combined with how short their shelf life is, it doesn’t make much sense for someone to sell them fresh unless they know there is a demand and quick turnover. That’s why they can ‘em! They are caught, cooked and canned anywhere from within a few hours to a just days. 

But, with all that being said, fresh sardines are delicious and when you see them buy them! They are great grilled and served simply with some salt and lemon. Yum!

What are some of the other ingredients I need to make sardine toast?

Fennel has a mild, slightly sweet taste thats is similar to licorice or anise. Look for bulbs that are firm, without any soft spots or bruising. The fennel should be white or pale green in color, with no signs of browning or discoloration. The fronds (the leafy green tops) should be bright green and fresh-looking, not wilted or dried out. The size of the bulb can vary, but smaller bulbs are generally more tender and flavorful. It should have a fresh, sweet aroma, with a hint of licorice.

Cultured butter

Cultured butter is a type of butter made from cream that has been fermented with live bacterial cultures. This fermentation process gives the butter a tangy flavor and a slightly different texture compared to regular butter. Cultured butter is often prized for its rich, complex taste, which can vary depending on the specific cultures used and the length of the fermentation period. It is commonly used in baking and cooking, as well as a spread on bread or toast, where its unique flavor can shine.

If you can’t find any cultured butter, or don’t want to use it, pick your favorite butter and go with that!

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Sardine Toast

Sardine Toast with Fennel
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Sardine Toast

spicy piri piri sardines with cultured butter, fennel, parsley and lemon
Prep Time10 minutes
Total Time10 minutes
Course: Appetizer, Lunch, Snack
Cuisine: American
Keyword: sardine toast, sardines, tartine


  • 1 slice sourdough bread toasted
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp cultured butter
  • 1 can sardines I used Matiz spicy sardines with piri piri pepper
  • ½ bulb Fennel thinly sliced
  • 1 wedge lemon


  • Toast bread.
  • While bread is still hot, rub with fresh garlic. Let cool for a minute or two while you slice up your fennel and open a can of sardines.
  • Arrange slices of butter on the toast, a layer of sardines and then the slices of fennel.
  • Top with some fresh parsley, a few fennel fronds and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
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One thought on Sardine Toast

  1. This sardine toast recipe looks and sounds delish. Sardines are one of my fav foods. I really like all the additional info you provided on the whole sardine industry. Thanks.

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