Chef Justine Smith Profiles West Coast Sardines

Today is World Oceans Day, and once again we are participating in Relais & Chateaux’s #FishUnknown Project in partnership with Ethic Ocean to celebrate sustainable seafood. A symphony of the sea’s biodiversity, the goal of the project is to showcase lesser-known species across social media in the form of recipes and highlights.

Our executive chef Justine Smith is profiling Pacific Sardines, which are high in vitamins and nutrients but underused as a local west coast fish. If handled delicately BC Sardines are a delightful local treat!

Chef Justine Smith Holding Pacific Sardines

Sardines have an average lifespan of 5-13 years, can grow to be 12 inches long and feed on plankton in the Pacific Ocean. They are sustainably fished using a purse seine method.

Justine’s beautiful dish pictured here features sardine bagna cauda, sourdough crisp, pickled vegetables, confit garlic, nasturtium and garden flowers. Check out the recipe below for all the details and instructions to make this at home:

West Coast Sardines Bagna Cauda

West Coast Sardines

Sardine bagna cauda, sourdough, pickled vegetables, confit garlic and garden greens

Bagna Cauda

Bagna cauda is essentially Italian fondue. Typically served family style in a small pot, it is a mixture of garlic, onion and anchovy (sardine in this case) cooked down in oil and butter. Vegetables pickled, cooked and raw as well as bread are dipped in and shared.

This is fancy bagna cauda on toast!

Sardine Bagna Cauda

2 large white onions, sliced julienne
5 cloves of garlic chopped
6 tbsp butter
150ml Sardine Oil
100ml whipping cream
1g xantham gum (optional to help emulsification)
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt to taste
Sweat onions and garlic in butter on low heat until cooked and translucent with no colour. Add whipping cream and cook on low for 10 minutes further. Transfer onions and cream mixture to a blender and puree on high in until smooth. Add the xantham gum (optional.) Keep the blender on high slowly stream in sardine oil to emulsify. Season with lemon juice and salt, keep warm until serving.

Sardine Oil

1 whole sardine – guts removed, cut into pieces
2 cloves of garlic, rough chopped
1 shallot, sliced
300ml canola oil
In a small pot, cook onions and garlic until golden brown. Add whole chopped sardine and cook until also golden. Add oil to pot and simmer for 10 minutes on low stirring occasionally. Strain through cheesecloth and a fine sieve and reserve.

Cleaning Sardines

Fresh or frozen sardines will typically be whole with all the good stuff still intact. To process sardines, make a cut down the belly of the sardine and remove the guts from inside. Gently rinse the sardine in a bowl of cold water. Once rinsed, run your knife gently down either side of the spine on the inside of the fish just to gently loosen then run your fingers down either side gently to fully loosen. Using your fingers pull the spine out from the neck to the tail. Using a knife gently remove any small bones or impurities, you can all the removed bones to your sardine oil. Rinse again in a clean bowl of cold water removing as much undesired parts as possible and let dry on a kitchen towel for a few moments.

Confit Liquid for Sardines
3 cups canola oil
1.5 cups apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
2 tsp salt
Zest of 1 lemon
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
Combine all ingredients and bring to simmer immediately remove from heat and let cool completely.
When ready to cook sardines, bring liquid to 100 degrees F. Carefully place filets into cooking liquid for 10-15 seconds, remove and let drain on a kitchen towel until serving.

Makes enough liquid for 8-10 sardines.

Pickling Liquid for Vegetables

2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup white sugar
1.5 cups water
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 piece star anise
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
Bring liquid to a boil, remove from heat, cover and steep for 20 minutes. Strain liquid and cool completely.
Slice a selection of 2-3 vegetables thinly on a mandolin and arrange in separate containers. When pickling liquid is cool pour over each vegetable and let pickle in the fridge overnight before serving, any extra liquid can be saved in the fridge for future use. Let drain on a kitchen towel for a few moments before plating.
Confit Garlic
10 cloves confit garlic
200ml canola oil
1 sprig thyme
1 tsp salt
Combine all ingredients in a small pot and bring to just below a simmer until garlic is cooked all the way through, with no colour and still holds its shape. Cool everything together, let cloves of garlic drain on kitchen towel before serving.

Toasting Sourdough

Cut a square of sourdough for your toast base. Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a small frying pan on medium heat. Once butter is foaming add your piece of sourdough and toast until golden brown. Once achieved turn bread over and toast the other side until it is also golden brown. Leave to drain for a few moments on a kitchen towel.

Making the Sardine Toast

Spoon a layer of the Sardine Bagna Cauda sauve over your piece of toasted sourdough. Lay the Cooked sardine filet down next. Arrange your pickled vegetables, garlic confit, garden greens and flowers covering the filet (Leaving the head on is optional.) Drizzle a small amount of finishing olive oil over top and sprinkle with a small pinch of sea salt. Add extra sauce to the plate for more dipping if you’d like to, and enjoy!

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