How to Cook Canned Sardines? 15 Minutes Spaghetti Recipe

How to Cook Canned Sardines?

Today I will show you how to cook canned sardines with spaghetti. It’s a different, but delicious recipe you will love!

Sardines taste heavenly to avid fish fans, but they are any true seafood hater’s worst nightmare. They taste the absolute fishiest you can imagine. That bears a lot of opportunities to create bold-tasting dishes, as some cuisines use sardines to season their meals. 

Once you learn to appreciate these delicacies of the sea, you can enjoy the plentiful health benefits they offer. Sardines are packed full of healthy fatty acids, omega 6 and 3, and have the lowest levels of mercury of any fish.

They have a hefty dose of protein, iron, and vitamin D. If you stick to bone-in canned sardines, you get a lot more calcium as well from the bones

Can you eat sardines out of the can?

Canned sardines

Sardines are packed in cans full of liquids, usually oils, tomato sauce, lemon zest, or water with preservatives and spices. You can eat them straight out of the can. The heads are removed mostly, but the bones and skin are left in.

Whatever type of canned sardine you find in the supermarkets, all the parts in canned food are edible straight away

Fish are always cleaned, purged, and cooked before being preserved in cans. The internal organs are mostly left in canned sardines, especially the smaller ones, because they are healthy and perfectly safe to eat. 

Are sardines in a can cooked?

Like most canned fish, sardines preserved this way are completely cooked and ready to eat. However, it’s not a sin to give them some more edge or flavor by grilling or pan-frying them to incorporate the sardines into other dishes.

When preserved, they are usually bathed in tomato sauce, peppers, oil, bay leaves, or lemon zest. These are all great accompaniments for this magnificent fish and also add to the health benefits.

How long does it take to cook canned sardines?

There are some ways to eat and prepare canned sardines, not just eat them straight from the tin. Panfrying them is one of them.

You only need a batch of oil to sear them for 4-5 minutes, turning them over to fry each side. When done, the fish should be strong-smelling, golden brown, and slightly charred. This brings out a different undertone than soft and mushy straight-from-the-can meals do.

Sardines can be grilled or pan-seared to enhance any dish you want to add them to, and the seasonings as well. Heat brings out the flavors in spices like nothing else. And also, once you grill them golden, there is no more resemblance to the canned food you bought at the supermarket.

This is a whole other meal now.

However, keep in mind that when you cook canned food, the purpose is always “just” to give them some sudden, bold, and short heat treatment, not to overcook them all over again. 

How to Cook Canned Sardines?

How to Cook Canned Sardines

Sardines are a staple in Sicilian cuisine, as they have been used for centuries in a variety of meals. Sicilian pasta dishes are some of the most amazing meals a sardine can turn into, even standing firmly in fine-dining places. This recipe will become a family favorite in no time.
4.5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 12 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 4 Servings


  • 2 packs Canned whole sardines (cut into 1-inch pieces)
  • ½ cup Dry white wine
  • ¼ cup Raisins (about 40 g)
  • 5 tbsp Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Fennel seed (ground)
  • ½ cup Toasted bread crumbs (Italian bread, focaccia, bricciole)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper (freshly ground)
  • 1 cup Minced, peeled, and cored fennel bulb, fronds reserved
  • 1 cup Yellow onion (minced)
  • 4 Anchovy fillets
  • ½ cup Pine nuts (toasted)
  • 1 teaspoon Cardamon
  • 1 pound Spaghetti
  • A pinch of saffron (optional)


  • In a saucepan, heat the white wine with the raisins and saffron until steaming, for 5-8 minutes on medium heat, then set it aside
  • Shimmer some olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat, add the fennel and cook it for a minute. Add the breadcrumbs until toasted. Transfer them to a bigger bowl, seasoning them with salt and pepper.
  • Boil half of the fennel fronds in salty water.
  • Cook the spaghetti in the cooking water of the fennel fronds, just until it’s ’al dente’ for 5-7 minutes on high heat. When done, set aside one cup of the cooking water.
  • In a saucepan, heat olive oil with diced yellow onion and the other half of the fennel, finely chopped, for about 7 minutes on medium heat, until both are tenderly soft and aromatic.
  • Add the cut anchovies and cook them some more.
  • Transfer the raisin-saffron-wine mixture into the saucepan and heat it until the wine evaporates completely.
  • Add the sardines, pine nuts, and cardamom, and cook them just slightly for about 3-4 minutes.
  • This is slight heating just to let the flavors out.
  • Transfer the pasta to a skillet with some cooking water and add the sauce to it. Cook them on medium heat, mix them well, coating the pasta with the sauce.
  • Season them with salt, fennel fronds, and some more breadcrumbs just before plating.
  • The pasta shouldn’t be watery or dry.
  • Serve them in bowls.


From a culinary perspective, canned sardines offer a lot of variety. You can turn them into salads, brunches, healthy breakfasts to gorge on, full lunches, snacks with crackers and chips, and so many more! But to find an ingredient's smoothest, most mind-blowing usage, it’s best to go back to its roots.
Quick Tip: You can top them with some more Italian breadcrumbs and fennel fronds. Serve this magnificent meal with a side of chilled dry white wine.
Keyword How to Cook Canned Sardines
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

How do I know when the sardines are done?

The sardines should be golden, slightly charred after grilling. Move them around with a spatula to avoid breaking them into pieces.

However, good-quality canned sardines shouldn’t be mushy to the point where you can’t handle them confidently.

The flesh should be firm, slightly opaque inside, and flaky. Canned sardines that come with the bones are packed with calcium. In most dishes, you won’t even notice them, especially when mashed with avocado, mashed potatoes, or fish patties. 

What is the best way to eat canned sardines?

Eating them straight from the can is the easiest option. Otherwise, you can broil or grill them, pan-fry or mush them into a patty, or serve them mixed into salads, rice dishes, pasta, or tortillas. Fish patties and pizza toppings are probably the most popular ways to use them up.

When putting them on a pizza, let them dry beforehand. It takes a few minutes to grill them golden brown and give them a whole new taste and texture.

Drying the liquids from the can and adding some lemon zest and fresh herbs can take away a lot of the fishy flavor.

Can you microwave or fry canned sardines?

Both options are viable. However, frying or grilling them preserves their texture better and brings out the best in sardines. By microwaving, you can easily overcook them, turning them into a bland, mushy mess. Frying them takes about 5-10 minutes, just like grilling. Flip them so each side can get good browning.

When microwaving, transfer the sardines to a microwave-safe container after draining the liquids. Never microwave them in the can! Use medium heat, and check on the fish regularly so as not to overcook them. Whenever you have the time, stick to searing them in an iron skillet. 

Final words

Sardines are very meaty and tender, with a bold flavor. Citruses like lemon, lime, or grapefruit are great to give them a fresh twist. 

“Canned” foods are frowned upon in culinary circles but believe me, you can turn them into real, head-turning, mouthwatering pieces of art.

Bringing these foods to life requires some creativity, knowledge of cooking techniques and the ingredients, and minor preparation. It’s all worth it to get the meal of the month, everybody raving about from now on!

So, do you already know how to cook canned sardines with some spaghetti? It’s a simple, but delicious recipe you should try!

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