Sarde in Saor

Sardines With Red Onions (Sarde in Saor)


Macerated Sardines from Venice


Sarde in Saor; better late than never

I’m a little late with this traditional Venetian recipe for Sarde in Saor (Fresh sardines with red onions). One year has already flown past at the speed of light since we were in Venice.  I’m not sure where it went.  I had all these great plans for doing a series of Venetian recipes when I got back, but instead someone put me in an invisible time-machine and sent me forward a year. I do wish that they’d put me forward in time a little more as they’ve dropped me in the middle of our house undergoing major renovation.  There’s dust and broken stuff everywhere! Well, since I’m here now, and while there are no jackhammers shaking the house, I’ll tout this traditional Venetian recipe using sardines as a “celebration of our (almost) one year anniversary since we were in Venice post” and leave it at that!


Fresh sardines


Even I like eating sardines made like this

I’m honestly not a super fan of oily fish, even though I know that they are supposed to be awfully good for you, make your brain grow, reduce your risk of cancer, make you a swimming champion etc.  Even so, I have difficulty getting past their “fishiness”.  With sardines in saor, I can actually eat them, and can even say that I enjoy them!  The fish smell is a little overwhelming in the kitchen when you are cooking the fish (but I think that’s just me!), but after that, they’re macerated in an onion, vinegar and wine mixture that changes them into non-smelly delicious fish.  Convinced yet?

The Venetians originally used this method to cook sardines so that they could be conserved for a longer period of time.  Once you have prepared the fish, you need to leave them for a couple of days (in the fridge) to marinate and almost become pickled. I managed to get fresh sardines that were already prepared, which saved a huge amount of work, but if you can only get whole ones, you need a little patience to clean them.  It’s all worth it in the end!


Before and After onions


Travel photo of the week

Here’s how Venetians go fruit and vegetable shopping.   It makes the supermarket run so much more fun if you can buy your produce off a boat!


Shopping for fruit and vegetables in Venice


By Lisa Watson


Sarde in saor

This recipe is for a very special fish dish that is traditionally prepared in the Veneto region of Italy.
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Fridge time2 days
Total Time35 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4 people as a first course.


  • 400 g Fresh Sardines 14 oz
  • 350 – 400 g Red Onions approx 2 large
  • 1- 2 Tbsp Sultanas or raisins
  • 100 ml White Vinegar 1/2 cup
  • 100 ml White Wine 1/2 cup
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


  • If the sardines haven’t come fileted, remove the heads and clean the insides.
  • Dredge the fish in flour and fry them in vegetable oil, turning them carefully every now and then, until they are cooked through. Cooking time will depend on the fish.  It took about 8 -10 minutes for the ones I had.
  • Drain the sardines on a papaer towl.
  • Put the sultanas or raisins in warm water to soften.
  • Peel and slice the onions thickly. Sauté in olive oil until they are soft, but not browned.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients. Squeeze the sultanas to remove the bulk of the water and add them to the mixture.
  • Let the onions continue to cook for a few minutes until the liquid is reduced by approximately half, then take the pan off the heat.
  • In a non-reactive container, put a layer of sardines, then a layer of the onion mixture.  Continue layering until all the ingredients are used up.
  • Put in the fridge and leave for 2 – 3 days.


Sarde in saor is eaten at room temperature or warm, but not hot.