Sardella: Calabrian Caviar

June 26, 2013 / Food & Wine


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This year’s sardella batch is upon us! Sardella is a Calabrian variant of an ancient Roman staple, a salted fish sauce called garum. As such it is a culinary tradition that has been repeated every year in Calabria since antiquity. Of course, trust the Calabresi to take any food and add large quantities of peperoncino (spicy red pepper) to make it even tastier. And grateful we are to them for it!

This mouth watering delicacy is made from newly hatched sardines, salt, peperoncino, and wild fennel tips. The minuscule fish are washed in fresh water, drained in baskets, and then layered in terracotta jars with salt and the red pepper. After two days, it is all mixed together by hand (hopefully they remember to not touch their eyes over the following 24 hours!) and then placed in jars to cure for six to seven months.

Usually eaten as a spread on bread, it is also used in many local dishes, particularly pasta. Just add a bit of warm water from the pasta to a heaping spoonful of sardella in a glass to “melt” it or “loosen” it up, and then add it to the cooked pasta. Delicious! No surprise they call il caviale della Calabria (Calabrian caviar).



by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

14 Responses to “Sardella: Calabrian Caviar”

  1. This little fish (neonate) can be bought here in the San Francisco Bay Area at Chinese fish markets, for sure I’m to soon buy some to make “il vero caviale del sud”, thank you for the recipe.

  2. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    You must taste it to become a believer, also good as a tapenade on a panini …..WOW

  3. Sounds fantastic! Any idea if it can be ordered online?


  4. Pat Carney-Ceccarelli

    So glad to have this post! The archeological digs here at Baratti Bay in Tuscany have been unearthing evidence of the garum industry that was thriving here here in Etruscan/ Roman times and actually I didnt have a clue what it was! So many thanks.

    • Dear Pat Carney-Ceccarelli;
      To find out about garum (or liquamen) you can find it explained in the book THE CLASSICAL COOKBOOK by Andrew Duffy and Sally Grainger (order through Amazon). The book is a goldmine of ancient Roman and Greek recipes. It’s been said that the modern Roman abundant use of preserved anchovies is a direct result of the ancient garum recipes as are their sweet and sour dishes.

  5. Nancy W Cook

    I am certain you know that residue of garum was found at Pompeii and Herculaneum! Can’t wait to get some! Thanks

  6. In almost every article I’ve read about garum it’s been brought up that the South-East Asian fish sauce NUOC MAM is probably exactly like garum being they are both made the same way. Nuoc mam can be bought at most Asian markets. For some the sauce is repulsive, for others a delight. Maybe it’s genetic memory but I love the smell of nuoc mam (“garum”).

  7. Mirian Regina de A. Silva

    Hi guys!!! Here in Brazil italian families produce Sardella using “anchovas” imported from Argentina or Spain, but we also have a cheaper version using canned sardines and some people even use fresh sardines (not so good). My Calabrian grandfather brought the recipe when migrated to Brazil. Damn good!!!!

  8. Natalina Russo

    Can You Please tell Me where I can Buy Sardella near Pitts or order here in the Usa, Remeber eating it all the time growing up, I was Born in Calabria and Here in Pittsburgh Pa. Thank You, Grazie,Buona Notte!


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