Sardeles Pastes – A Lesvos Delicacy
“The snack of choice with ouzo is Sardeles Pastes. These are the sardines that have been caught that morning, salted on the boat and served that night. To eat them, the skin is removed and they are seasoned with oil, lemon or whatever your host prefers to season with (though some eat them totally unseasoned).” – Matt Barrett
But you don’t have to go to Lesvos to eat sardeles pastes, nor do you have to eat them out of a can. If you follow these instructions you can make your own sardeles pastes, impress your friends and start a lifelong relationship with the healthiest and best tasting fish in the sea.
No. The first step is not to get the sardines. You want to have everything ready so you can salt the sardines quickly. So the first thing you need to do is go to the store and buy some course sea salt. One bag should be enough for your first batch. You will also need to find some plastic containers with a tight fitting top that are wide enough to fit your sardines which will hopefully be about 3 inches long.
You need to go and get some sardines. If you live on an island or close to the coast in Athens go to wherever the fishing boats come in the morning. You will want the freshest and the smallest sardines they have. You can also find them in the Athens fish market or in the market in Mytlini if you are lucky enough to be in Lesvos, or a fish market in any town or island in Greece. If you are not in Greece, well, I don’t know about other countries in the Mediterranean, maybe the sardines are small enough. In the USA they are too big so if you are in Monterey or somewhere the fishing boats catch sardines you should not even attempt this. Those sardines can be grilled, fried or fed to your cat… Anyway let me repeat that for sardeles pastes you need the SMALLEST and FRESHEST sardines. Get a pound or a half a kilo.
Wash your sardines and let them dry. Don’t scale them and make sure that whoever had them before you did not scale. Open your bag of salt and cover the bottom of your container about a quarter of an inch thick.
Lay your sardines in the salt next to each other in a row. Some people lay them on their side while others claim that if you lay them with their bellies up (or down) they are better. At this point in your “pastoning” career it does not matter, as long as they fit. Once you have laid down the first row cover them with salt so you can’t even see them and lay the next row.
Keep alternating sardines and salt (kind of like making lasagna) until you get to the top. Cover with salt and close the container. The tighter the better and you can use rubber bands or your wife’s hair ties to keep it shut. Or you can put something heavy on top of it when you put it in the fridge.
If you have questions don’t be afraid to ask any of your friends from Lesvos for advice.
Chances are you will have some left over. Don’t try to cram them all into the salt. You can probably find someone in the neighborhood who will eat them.
After about 24 hours they will probably be done if they were the right size. Now comes the fun part. You have to clean them. This will probably be one of the smelliest and messiest things you have ever done in your kitchen and it is best to do this when your spouse is not around. For this reason I can’t use photos to show you how to do it because the last thing you want to touch with your hands full of fish guts and scales is an expensive camera. But what you do is break off the head by pushing it down. This will make all the guts come out when you pull it off. Then under running water use your thumbs to remove the sales and skin by pushing it towards the tail. You can even peel it like a tomato, for those of you who have ever peeled a tomato.
I put them on a paper towel to absorb the water and use another paper towel on top. I have included my finger to give you an idea of how small these are, not to tell them they are swimming in the wrong direction.
It is time to test them. Take hold of the two ends of the tail and gently pull. If one side of the filet separates from the bone you have done it right.
Feed them to your spouse and/or friends to stop the complaining about how bad the kitchen smells… Be sure to save some for when the complaints come that the drain is clogged or that the towels smell like fish…
Serve with your favorite ouzo from Lesvos!
To find more great recipes and travel tips, visit Matt Barrett’s Greek travel journal: