Sarde in saor: Venetian sweet and sour sardines (recipe)

sarde in saor

I came to this dish very late, which is a surprise since it is one of the classic dishes of Venetian cuisine, and a pity since I have been missing it all my life. From just before my teenage years until adulthood, I wouldn’t touch fish on principle since I knew I didn’t like it, despite evidence to the contrary. For example, I remember at the age of about ten being fed what my parents told me was prosciutto di parma. It was delicious, but turned out to be smoked salmon.


sarde in saor

A few months ago, I was in Venice researching an article on Venetian cichéti and I knew I couldn’t write about this dish without trying it. I ordered it and with trepidation, bearing in mind I had never eaten a sardine, I took my first mouthful.
Like the poor sardines before me, I was hooked.


The dish, which is often served as a Venetian small plate (cichéto) is remarkably easy to prepare and will sit in the fridge for a few days—indeed it’s better when it has—so you can eat it as a quick lunch with a salad, or as a tasty, quick evening meal. In Venice it’s often an antipasto, or appetizer served, of course, with prosecco. It is quintessentially Venetian, young sardines being found in the Venetian lagoon and the sultanas and pine nuts adding a slightly middle-eastern quality befitting Venice’s position at the end of the silk road.


sarde in saor


If, unlike me, your dislike of sardines is reality and not fantasy, this dish can be made with king prawns, or indeed pieces of white fish fillet. Ranieri da Mosto (father of the more familiar Francesco) in his book Il Veneto in cucina, says that the dish used to be made with sardines, flounder, or sole depending on how rich you were, but that today it’s usually only made with sardines, the poorest version. Perhaps this is indicative of Venice’s reduced status since the end of the Serenissima Repubblica.

Is there anything that you wouldn’t eat as a child which you now love? Let me know in the comments.


Sarde in saor

Serves: 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 mins
Resting time: 24 hours


600g (1 1/2 pounds) sardines, filleted
plain flour for dusting
250ml (1 cup) olive oil
4 white onions, sliced
125ml (1/2 cup) white wine vinegar
100g (3 ounces) sultanas
100g (3 ounces) pine nuts


  1. Dust the sardines in flour and then shallow fry for a few minutes in the olive oil.
  2. Fish the sardines out of the oil, salt them and set to one side.
  3. Add the onions to the oil and cook gently until they are translucent, being careful not to brown them.
  4. Add the white wine vinegar and continue to cook for about ten minutes.
  5. Take a container with a lid and place a layer of sardines in the bottom.
  6. Now place a layer of onions on the top.
  7. Sprinkle with sultanas and pine nuts. Continue until you run out of ingredients.
  8. Pour the oil and vinegar mixture into the container.
  9. When the contents have cooled, place the lid on the container and put in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
  10. Serve cold.



Da Mosto, Ranieri (2008) Il Veneto in cucina. Treviso: Canova.




12 thoughts on “Sarde in saor: Venetian sweet and sour sardines (recipe)”

    1. Luca Marchiori

      Imagine not liking rice! Almost as crazy as a Venetian not liking fish. So glad both our tastes have changed.

  1. Oh, Luca this is so funny!
    I have had an aversion most of my life to most fish. But then in 2012 I was in Venice and my birthday was 12-12-12 and I had a special birthday dinner at Luna Sentada (I put the link in your post on Tiramisu) and decided to be adventurous at the recommendation of my landlord. They served a sampler of appetizers and among them was Sarde in Saor. I decided it was best to get it over with so took a sardine …which I had never eaten in my life…and fell in love! What a wonderful dish! I love it.
    Someday I will make it myself…here it would probably be with the prawns because I still won’t cook with sardines. But I’ll eat them in Venice. (just no eels).

    1. Luca Marchiori

      How funny that we both had the same experience! I understand you’d prefer not to cook with sardines and prawns would be lovely. Or even some nice white fish fillet, like cod or monkfish would go nicely I think.

      1. Oh, my parents only ever lied to me about one meat….venison. They told me it was steak. Wouldn’t you know they confessed at the end of the meal. My reply “How could you kill Bambi?” Of course we had just seen the movie. I must have been seven or eight years old.
        Yes, some day I want to make this dish for my Italian class since it doesn’t have to be served warm.

      2. Luca Marchiori

        Mine confessed to me immediately after the smoked salmon incident too. They never had to hide venison from me as I’ve always loved it. Good plan: yes, it’s a must to serve it cold. It’s a great one for making in advance.

  2. I have yet another book set in Venice that mentions sardines as one of the dishes. Your post has inspired me to make it and use your recipe as the basis. I’ll report back!

  3. Pingback: Venetian cichéto of the week #1 (recipe) « Chestnuts and Truffles

  4. Pingback: Mazzancolle in saor: Venetian sweet and sour prawns (recipe) « Chestnuts and Truffles

  5. Mushrooms, until I was a teenager. Then I tasted one in my mother’s spaghetti sauce. Here’s the recipe:

    Saute some onions
    Add chopped celery leaves (key ingredient)
    Add some chopped garlic, being careful not to scorch it
    Add mushrooms, and saute them
    Add small can of tomato paste
    Add large can of tomato sauce
    Heat until bubbling, and then simmer

    One of my all-time favorite dishes! My mother used to say, “don’t scotch the garlic”, and for many years I couldn’t figure out what that meant until I realized it was her Boston accent for “scorch”!!

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