Sardine & Harrisa

Harissa sardines with couscous salad

If you’re wondering which fish is extremely nutritious, full of good fish oil, B12 and D vitamins AND cheap. I say Sardines!

I lived more than 15 years in Bordeaux so the Atlantic coast has a special place in my heart. There is nothing like it really: wild pines forest longing the coat by the see, the ocean, gorgeous seafood and the weather of course! And so when I was a kid, we use to BBQ sardines a lot, especially during the summer season. A treat was to walk to the market every day, and twice a week, bring some fresh sardines to grill them on the barbecue or à la plancha.

I personally prefer the tiny sardines because when they are so small, you can just swallow down the whole thing, without having to pay close attention to bones 🙂

Harissa sardines with couscous salad

I have always had this special tie to sardines. I really like them! Every time I visit my fish monger, my eyes are always in search of these precious little fish. “Do you have sardines today?” I hear myself ask so often that it now seems an old song to my fish guy. “I can special order some, if you like,” he often replies, when failing to meet my desperate need. I know he can. But don’t you agree that there is so much more fun when you can spontaneously go home with a bag of fresh sardines, without having to wait?

And so when the other day I found the small little fish on the stalls – I just bought some and thought I would cook them in a really hot pan with some harissa to make them super crunchy.

Harissa sardines with couscous salad

Harissa sardines with couscous salad served with fresh greek yoghurt and harissa dip:

Serves 2
Cooking time: 30mins


– 500gr small sardines
– sea salt & black pepper
– 1 large tbsp harissa paste
– extra virgin olive oil
– 2 limes
– greek yoghurt
– 2 handful of rocket
– 200gr couscous
– 10 to 15 black olives, crushed and finely chopped
– 2 spring onions, finely chopped
– a small handful of mint, finely chopped
– 100gr of feta cheese, crumbled


Put the couscous in a bowl and pour over 300ml of boiling water. Cover with a lid and leave until your done cooking the fish.

Put a frying pan on a high heat so it get nice and hot. Once it’s ready, rub a tiny bit of oil into the sardines and add them to the pan. Sprinkle over a little salt and cook for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the harissa in a small bowl with a lug of extra virgin olive oil and the juice of a lemon. Turn your sardines over in the pan then brush them lightly with the harissa sauce. Cut a lemon in half, and add it cut-side down at the side of the griddle pan.

Fluff up your couscous with a fork then add the spring onions, olives, mint and feta. Add a some extra virgin olive oil and the juice of your remaining lemon half. Gently mix it all together then have a taste to check the balance of flavours.

To check your fish is cooked go to the thickest part of the flesh and it should pinch away easily, you’ll also be able to cleanly pull the bone away. Pile the couscous on a board or on your plates and top with the sardines. Dollop a bit of yoghurt on the side topped with some of the harissa sauce. Pop the rocket on the side, squeeze a little of the caramelised lemon over each portion and dip in.

Wine recommendation:

The old rule was white wine with fish. Today, anything goes, and red wines are often a good complement, especially with meaty or oily fish. It isn’t so much the fish as the accompanying sauce that makes the difference. And in this case the spicy harissa and flavourful couscous calls for a Pinot Noir.

The Dutch boyfriend’s opinion:

Like I wrote before I really like fish. Seafood no. Fish miam. In the past few years I ate lots of sardines, made by my mother-in-law. And though she is French, her cuisine is not that special. That, or I am to spoiled by my own French chef. In the past the sardines I tried were always very dry and I have gotten used to the crusty burnt flavour. But then I tasted Raph’s sardines. What a difference: they are full of flavour and not dry at all. I ate the entire fish, fins and head included. Delicious, especially with the sauces served next to them! The couscous on the other hand felt a bit out of balance with the tender and delicate fish. So sorry my love, no ten out of ten.

Rating: 8/10

13 thoughts on “Sardine & Harrisa

    • Thanks Nandini. With crispy sardines you just never have enough… Den and I could eat tones of it 😉 I just saw your shrimp egg noodle recipe and that looks outrageously delicious too!

  1. Oh Raphaelle, boyfriend came up trumps consuming the WHOLE sardine. Husband will eat whitebait whole but sardines I have to fillet, a fiddly job, but then they are so delicious, it’s worth the effort.

    • YES! I have to admit that I couldn’t stop smilling when I saw my boyfriend swallowing down entire sardines (incl. the heads) at once – what a success! Your husband is lucky that you’re filleting the small fish (what wouldn’t we do for our men?!) – I wouldn’t know how and where to start 🙂

  2. Hi Raphaelle, I like sardines too, but only when very fresh and properly cleaned (leftover innards make them taste bitter). This is a nice take on sardines, quite a bit south from Bordeaux! I agree with Dennis that sardines should be juicy rather than dry.
    This is yet another reason for you to go to Albert Cuyp, where fresh sardines are always available.

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