Tinned Sardine Salad

By Published On: 11 Feb '23Last Updated: 14 Apr '24

A nutritious, protein rich snack/brunch option that combines multiple flavours and textures (salty, sweet, tangy and funky).  Tinned Sardine Salad is delicious with zingy green chilli, fresh coriander and garlic on a bed of crunchy pickled onions.

Tinned Sardine Salad

Would you love to venture beyond the traditional habitat in the salad bowl? Tinned sardines have an assertive flavour but they are a convenient way of having a brunch, snack or even a meal, if you treat them with love. I particularly love them because they are small, oily, strong flavoured fish that stand up well to bold flavours, such as in my 'Tinned Sardine and Onion Salad'.

Much of the inspiration for this recipe comes from my late mother who loved tinned sardines, and this is an up the sleeve easy recipe. Tinned fish in general was a luxury back in the day and a salad like this was made with simple pantry ingredients such as vinegar, salt, and onions. Fresh green chillies were added for a chilli kick and coriander leaves for freshness.

The recipe below is one of the simplest and delicious ways of eating tinned sardines. This is a salad that does not disappoint, as tinned sardines love acidity and the nested pickled onions do just that.

Sardines were named after the Italian island of Sardinia, where they can be found in abundance. They come from the herring family and pilchards are the same species of fish, just slightly larger.

Apart from eating sardines directly from the cans, this is an easy way to enjoy sardines as a snack, brunch or lunch.

Although the assertive flavour of this small oily fish is a turn off to some, it was a prized delicacy for me when I was growing up. Canned food was not available in India back then. The only time we saw canned food was, when someone from the family went on a business trip to Europe or the USA.

My cousin from Mumbai would often go to France and always made it a point to pick up a smorgasbord of tinned food including, tinned crab meat, cocktail sausages, tinned sardines and mackerels for my grandma. My grandma welcomed this prized basket of goodies, all of which came with beautiful packaging, because she simply adored everything out of the can!!

It goes without saying that 'grass is greener on the other side'! Living right on the east coast of India, fresh fish was a staple however, canned fish was a luxury and my word she embraced it!!

I am cracking up right now! Tinned food was so rare that my grandma kept these goodies under lock and key! These days tinned food sits in one dark corner of the pantry and no one reaches for them!! But when I do reach out, it stirs up memories of my grandma and the stylish wooden French basket (perhaps still in my childhood home in the attic!).

It was a slightly different story for my mum who grew in the lush green hills and the countryside of Mangalore. After her marriage, she moved from the countryside and lived on the west coast of India. There having access to the freshest fish, she had little or no idea how to put canned food to good use. Looking back, receiving canned food must have felt like the falling of the coke bottle from an airplane in the comedy movie "The Gods must be crazy"!!.

I guess she wanted to use the canned food in every which way but the reality was, she did not know how to. My mum would hang on to these canned goods until one day my grandma would sing out "Stella, can we have the canned sardines today for lunch?" The poor lady was dying for those tinned sardines!

My mum drew great satisfaction from cooking and expressing her love for her family. A woman who was fulfilled and at her best when performing acts of love and service for the ones she loved. I am determined to remember that version of my mum and carry it with me throughout my life. Whether I am making a curry, or reading a newspaper, having a walk, or chatting to my family, I'll remember all that she taught me and all that she was, because a life lived in service for others, deserves to be remembered as such.

And if I ever forget, my memory clouded by the not-so-happy months spawned by her illness, the familiar taste of her flavourful, irresistible curries, pickles, snacks and salads will surely remind me.

Slightly off the track but to get back into it - So, after a lot of thinking, she came up with a recipe using some pantry staples and herbs for some freshness.

This is the only way I know to eat these tiny but mighty canned sardines and I am so pleased to share this recipe with you here. I call them mighty because they are packed with nutritional goodness such as iron, calcium and Omega-3 fatty acids plus when you eat them with bones, they pack in about 30% of your daily calcium intake.

Important: Sardines do not contain high levels of mercury that other fish do, as they feed only on plankton.

With all these vitamins and minerals, adding this super food to your diet is one of the best things you can do to your health. Plus, a salad like this is not an apocalypse ration but more of a luxurious treat!

Canned sardines are economical, nutritious and tasty when prepared correctly!

And for me, canned sardines are nostalgic!


  • Did you know that sardines are high in Vitamin D content, which means they can compensate for the lack of sun in the winter months in the northern areas of the globe or for those whose lifestyle means they are sun-deprived?
  • Did you know they are a star in Paleo diets as they are an excellent source of calcium, potassium, selenium and phosphorous?
  • Did you know that sardines contain essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce? It needs to come from our diet.

See the recipe card at the end of the post for the full ingredients list and instructions

the sardines for this recipe

Canned sardines are easily accessible in all Woolworths and Coles supermarkets. They come in several selection of flavours to choose from, such as in tomato sauce, in tomato sauce with chilli, in lemon, chilli and garlic, in thyme and lemon. Unflavoured sardines come canned in oil, in olive oil, in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, in spring water, and even in low salt or no added salt. So many choices!!

Its good to remember that buying sardines in water means no extra fats, sauce or oil, thus the resulting sardines are much stronger in flavour.

With a wide selection of sardines in the supermarket shelves, it can be daunting to choose one good one. In no particular order, in Australia, some popular tinned sardines include:

  • Safcol
  • Brunswick
  • King Oscar
  • John West
  • Portuguese style sardines
  • Deep Cove
  • Smiling Fish

My favourite brand is JOHN WEST sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Why do I choose John West sardines over the others?

  • They have a natural taste that blends perfectly with coriander and chilli.
  • They are never too salty.
  • They work particularly well for this recipe as their flavour is not as strong compared to sardines in spring water.
  • They are tender, tasty and delicious when served on top of pickled onions.
  • Finally, John West is the BEST!! Did I just say that?

ingredients for the pickling

Red onion - In this salad, the sliced red onions add a crispy texture and mildly spicy flavour. Pickling the onions reduces their distinct odour and makes the salad well rounded.

    • Alternative: Brown onions are a good substitute. Remember the salad plate will not be as colourful when you use brown onions!

Salt - Added to balance the sweetness of sugar and tang of the vinegar. Iodised salt is my go to option, however, you may use your favourite brand. If you are salt sensitive or have a related health condition, I suggest adding salt to taste.

Caster sugar - Added for a little sweetness while pickling onions. It balances the tang of the vinegar while absorbing some heat of the green chilli. Use only a teaspoon or to your taste.

    • Alternative: Granulated sugar works well too. Dissolve the sugar and salt well in vinegar. Pour over onions.

Fresh garlic - Freshly minced garlic is a great flavour enhancer with its savoury quality.

    • Alternative: While you could use garlic from a jar, I would not recommend it, as it does not enhance the flavour of this salad. If you could not be bothered to grate the garlic, leave it out!

White wine vinegar - a crisp vinegar, that plays a great supporting role in infusing the flavour of green chilly, coriander leaves and garlic to the delicate pickled onions. It does not impart any colour into the finished dish, which is particularly handy when pickling the red onions. Add only a tablespoon or two or as per taste. Find at all supermarkets and grocery stores such as Woolworths, Coles or Aldi in their condiment shelf.

    • Alternative: Distilled white vinegar works as a good substitute, if that's what you have at home.

Fresh green chilly - added for a bit of a spicy kick, flavour and colour. Pith and seeds are the hottest parts so, feel free to omit or remove the seeds to reduce the spiciness. Chop or slice them into thin rounds.

    • Alternative: Fresh cayenne pepper for a less spicier taste.
    • How to store green chillies? - Place them in a plastic bag and freeze them. Do not remove the plastic from the freezer but rather, remove as many chillies as you want from the plastic bag just before use. Frozen chillies stay fresh for a period of 6 - 8 months.

Coriander/cilantro - fresh coriander (cilantro) adds a bold, fresh and citrusy flavour to this salad. You can use the whole sprig including the stem. In this salad, it is a key ingredient that gives colour. It also pairs well with the natural taste of sardines and transforms the salad from a rustic to a modern look. Choose coriander that is deep green, perky and aromatic. The leaves of coriander and flat-leaf parsley are difficult to tell apart, read the label carefully before you buy coriander leaves. Find at all supermarkets or your green grocer, placed in their herb shelf.

    • How much to use? - a little goes a long way, particularly if starting fresh. Start with a teaspoon and graduate slowly.
    • How to store coriander/cilantro? Wrap the leaves along with the root in a wet paper towel and store in the fridge in a plastic bag or airtight container.
    • Alternative: Fresh dill makes an equally good alternative with mild flavours of anise and caraway. Fresh dill sprigs brighten the plate, while the delicate aroma of dill complements this fish salad really well. Please do not use dried dillweed as it does not work!
    • How to store fresh dill? - squirt with cool water, wrap loosely in paper towel and store in a plastic bag in the vegetable tray in the fridge.


This is one of the easiest all season tinned sardine recipes in the world. Once the ingredients are prepped and on the benchtop, all that is left is to assemble the salad. It's that easy! When I say easy, I mean it!

You will find full instructions and measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of this post. This is the summary of the process to go along with the process photos.

The recipe below makes one generous lunch, brunch or snack serving. Double the ingredients for two servings.

Slice the red onion into rounds or juliennes. In the photo on the right, I have sliced onion into juliennes

To pickle the onions, sprinkle with salt, caster sugar, grated garlic and vinegar. Set aside for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, stir gently and season, if required

Sprinkle the sliced chilli and half the coriander. Set aside for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes stir gently

While the onions are resting, open the can of sardines and empty contents on to a plate along with the oil

Gather all the prepped ingredients and a serving plate on the benchtop, ready for plating

Gather the garnishes, if you are garnishing the salad!

I am using diced canned beetroot, chilli and coriander as garnish

To plate the sardines, first lift the onions using a pair of tongs and gently shake off any excess liquid

Arrange them neatly on a serving plate

Transfer the remaining vinaigrette to a small serving dish, if using!

Using a spatula, carefully lift the sardines and place them on the top of onions

Flake them if you like or separate them if you are comfortable or leave them as they are.

It took a bit of time for me to separate them. Making them look pretty for my photos is my job!

I love a challenge dearly!!

Drizzle a little of the reserved vinaigrette and the reserved sardine oil on the top of sardines.

If you do not like the fishy oil, you may drizzle 1 tsp. of Extra Virgin Olive Oil!

Garnish with the remaining coriander and diced beetroot.

Serve vinaigrette on the side, sprinkled with chillies and coriander

Serve immediately as a brunch, lunch or a healthy snack!


Once you taste this sardine salad, you will never consider sardines as trash fish, but a fish that is prized now and for a long time into the future. A salad like this is not an apocalypse ration but more of a luxurious treat!

If you like fresh sardines, be sure to check out my Ullal Sardine Curry.

If you have tried this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback. Please be sure to rate the recipe and/or leave a comment below. If you want to see more recipe inspirations, you can follow me on Instagram @lavina_mendonsa.

Sardine and Onion Salad

Catherine Lavina Mendonsa
An all season favourite, a perfectly healthy and low-carb snack/brunch option that combines multiple flavours and textures (salty, crunchy, sweet, tangy and funky).  Tinned sardines make an easy protein rich lunch, with zingy green chilli, fresh coriander and garlic on a nest of crunchy red pickled onions.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Resting time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Brunch, lunch
Cuisine Indian, Mangalorean
Servings 1


  • 1 can sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1 x 110g

For the pickled onions

  • 1 red onion sliced into rounds or Julienned 90g -100g
  • ¼ tsp. salt or to taste 1.5g – 2g
  • 1 tsp. caster sugar or to taste 5g
  • 1 small garlic clove grated
  • 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar 20mL - 22mL
  • ½ -1 green chilli thinly sliced diagonally seeded, if you wish
  • 2 tbsp. coriander leaves finely chopped

For the Garnish

  • 1 few cubes of diced canned beetroot for garnish optional
  • Extra green chilli finely sliced for the vinaigrette optional
  • 1 tsp. extra coriander leaves finely chopped for the vinaigrette optional


  • To make the pickled onions, place the onion juliennes in a small bowl. Sprinkle with salt, caster sugar, grated garlic and vinegar. Set aside for 10 minutes. Stir gently, taste and season if required.
  • Sprinkle the sliced green chilli and ½ the coriander on top of the pickled onions and leave to rest for 5 more minutes.
  • While the onions are resting, open the can or sardines and empty contents on to a plate along with the oil.
  • Gather all the prepped ingredients on the benchtop.
  • To plate the sardines, first lift the onions from the vinaigrette using a pair of tongs and gently shake off some of the liquid. Arrange them neatly on the serving plate. Reserve the vinaigrette.
  • Using a spatula, carefully lift the sardines from their oil and arrange them neatly on the top of onions. Reserve a little sardine oil to drizzle on the sardines after plating, as the sardines dry out quickly once out of the oil (See Notes 1). Discard the oil that is not used. You can try to separate them if you wish, but there is nothing wrong if they are placed together. Don’t worry if some break, as this adds to the look of this salad.
  • Drizzle a little of the reserved vinaigrette on the top of sardines, reserving the rest to serve on the side, if required. Drizzle ¼ tsp. of the reserved sardine oil on the top of sardines (See Notes 1). Alternatively, you can use 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil to drizzle on the top of the sardines.
  • Garnish with the remaining coriander leaves. Top with the cubed beetroot.
  • Serve immediately along with the remaining vinaigrette (See Notes 2) and sliced green chillies on the side. Enjoy!


  1. The oil from the can will taste fishier than fresh oil. You may drizzle a teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil, instead of canned oil.
  2. Use as much vinaigrette as you wish and discard the rest.
Keyword Canned fish, Salad, Sardine, Tinned fish