Deep fried crumbed sardine is pretty tasty, but when you stuff a sardine fillet with perilla leaves and pickled plum, it almost eliminates the fishiness of the sardine. Stuffed Sardines with Perilla and Pickled Plum is perfect as an appetiser or a main dish.
Sardines used to be extremely cheap in Australia. I like the fish with shiny skin such as sardines, yellow tail, and mackerel so I was quite happy with the price of sardines. They used to be a couple of dollars per kilo when I had just migrated to Australia.
But now, sardines are about 5 times more expensive when they are very fresh. But since the prices of other fish have also gone up, sardines are still classified as a low-cost fish.
I regularly visit the local fish shop and whenever I see very fresh sardines I have to buy them, even if I have no plans to cook sardines. Stuffed Sardines with Pickled Plum and Perilla was made as a result of such a spontaneous purchase of sardines.
How to Fillet Sardines
Firstly, please buy very fresh sardines. Sardines with a lot of scratches, peeled skins, red eyes or guts coming out are not fresh. Fresh sardines have clean and shiny skin and clear eyes. The whole body should be intact and the belly part of the flesh should not be broken.
The sardines I bought were about 15cm/6” long, which is the perfect size for this recipe. It is quite fiddly if you try to fillet sardines using a knife, because they are so small and the flesh is so soft.
The best way to fillet and butterfly a sardine is to use your fingers instead of a knife. Here are the step-by-step photos, with instructions, for filleting a sardine.
Stuffing – Perilla and Umeboshi
I used perilla leaves and salty pickled plum called ‘umeboshi’ (梅干し). It would look best if the size of the perilla leaf is slightly wider than the width of the sardine fillet.
Umeboshi is a salty and sour pickled plum. You will need the umeboshi with soft flesh but the colour can be light brown, dark brown or even reddish. Please see my post, Daikon Salad with Pickled Plum Dressing for more details about umeboshi.
You don’t need a lot of umeboshi in each sardine roll as the saltiness and sourness of umeboshi is very strong. The unique flavour and fragrance of the perilla leaves reduces the fishy smell of the sardines and the sour umeboshi gives a refreshing palette to the deep-fried sardine.
Rolling Stuffed Sardines
Very fresh sardines are not difficult to roll as the flesh does not break easily. Place a perilla leaf and a small amount of umeboshi onto the sardine, then roll from the head-end to the tail. I use a toothpick to secure the roll so that it won’t unwind.
Please see the step-by-step photos in note 4 of the recipe. When you finish rolling and line them up on a plate, they look pretty good.
It takes only a couple of minutes to deep fry sardine rolls. Apart from filleting sardines, there is nothing fiddly about this recipe. If you can buy fresh sardines that are already filleted, it’s even better.
When the first batch of sardines were deep fried, I had to taste-test one of them immediately. It was so good and surprisingly refreshing with the flavour of the perilla and umeboshi.
With the toothpicks intact, Stuffed Sardines with Perilla and Pickled Plum is a perfect appetiser. But of course, you can serve them without toothpicks as a main, too.
PS: I added a new section ‘MEAL IDEAS’ below the recipe card. It gives you a list of dishes that I have already posted and the new recipe in this post that can make up a complete meal. I hope it is of help to you!
Stuffed Sardines with Perilla and Pickled Plum is perfect as an appetiser or a main dish. Deep fried crumbed sardine is pretty tasty but when you stuff a sardine fillet with perilla leave and pickled plum, it almost eliminates the fishiness of the sardine.
Prep Time includes the time to fillet sardines (about 15-20 minutes)
- 12 sardines (about 15cm/6” long, total 320g, note 1)
- 3 umeboshi , deseeded and chopped finely (note 2)
- 12 perilla leaves
- 12 toothpicks
- 1 egg
- 1½ tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 cup+ panko breadcrumbs (note 3)
- Oil for deep frying
Chop heads off sardines, remove the guts.
Use thumb to detach one side of the flesh from the back bone and butterfly the sardine.
Remove the backbone from the flesh and make butterfly the fillet.
Fillet all the sardines. Rinse quickly and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Place a sardine fillet on a cutting board, skin side down with the tail away from you.
Place a perilla leaf on the fillet with the pointy end of the leaf to the tail end. Place 1/10 of umeboshi in the middle, spreading horizontally.
Starting from the head-end (closer to you), gently but firmly roll the sardine fillets until the roll reaches to the tail.
Put a toothpick through from the tail-end of the meat to the other side of the roll so that the roll does not unwind.
Beat the egg in a small bowl. Add flour and water to the egg and mix well (note 5).
Dip each sardine roll in the egg mixture, then coat it with panko.
Heat oil in a pot or a deep fry pan to 170C. The depth of the oil needs to be a minimum of 5cm/2”.
Drop crumbed sardine rolls one by one into the oil and fry for a couple of minutes. Turn them over half way. Do not over-crowd the pan. I did it in 2-3 batches.
Transfer the sardines onto a plate lined with a couple of layers of kitchen paper.
Serve while hot without removing the toothpicks.
1. After removing heads, guts and bones, it weighed about 200g/0.4lb.
The size of sardines can vary a lot. For this recipe, very large sardines are not suitable. If you can buy fresh sardine fillets, that’s great. You can eliminate the time to fillet the sardines.
2. Umeboshi is a salty and sour pickled plum. I used three standard umeboshi whose flesh is very soft and the colour is brown. You will need the umeboshi with soft flesh but the colour cam be light brown, dark brown or even reddish. Please see my post, Daikon Salad with Pickled Plum Dressing for more details about umeboshi.
3. Panko are Japanese breadcrumbs which are larger than standard breadcrumbs. Nowadays they are available in all major supermarkets, usually in the Asian section.
The quantity of breadcrumbs required varies depending on how much egg mixture is on the sardines and how you coat the breadcrumbs. I tend to use more breadcrumbs than actually specified in the ingredients and end up with leftovers. If you have more crumbs, it is easier to coat.
4. Step-by-step photo of how to roll sardines.
5. The correct way of crumbing ingredients for deep frying is to coat the ingredient with flour first, then dunk it in beaten egg, then coat it with breadcrumbs. But today, I used a cheating (shortcut) method by mixing flour and beaten egg together. I did this because the rolled sardines are quite delicate and I did not want them go through the three-stage crumbing process.
I add water to make the egg mixture thinner but it’s up to you as to how thick you want the mixture to be. The aim is to make just the right amount of flour and egg mixture to coat all the sardine rolls.
6. Nutrition information per roll. It is assumed that all of egg, flour and pans breadcrumbs are consumed. Amount of oil absorbed into the roll is assumed to be 40ml/1.4oz for 12 rolls per my before and after measurement.
serving: 36g calories:81kcal fat: 5g (8%) saturated fat: 0.8g (4%) polyunsaturated fat: 1.4g monounsaturated fat: 2.6g cholesterol: 31mg (10%) sodium: 337mg (14%) potassium: 143mg (4%) carbohydrates: 2.6g (1%) dietary fibre: 0.2g (2%) sugar: 0.2g protein: 6g vitamin a: 1% vitamin c: 0.6% calcium: 1% iron: 2.3%