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Ainsley Harriott’s Pan-Seared Sardines with Thyme-Roasted Vine Tomato and Bread Salad

Ainsley Harriott transforms classic sardines on toast with this light and refreshing summer supper made fragrant with fresh herbs, lemon and rocket.


I’ve always loved sardines on toast, and when I was a young chef it was one of my go-to meals when I got in from a long shift. Food can be so evocative, and now whenever I eat sardines I’m always reminded of those times. Here I’ve taken the flavours of that simple enjoyable snack and elevated them to make a scrumptious summery salad that’s perfect for lunch or a light supper. You can buy butterflied sardine fillets – often Cornish – from most supermarkets. They’re good value and also save you from messing around with too many bones. For ease, you can use a good-quality tin of sardines if you prefer.

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6 ripe, medium vine tomatoes, halved
1 tsp sugar
¼–½ tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
3–4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to finish
150g sourdough or rustic bread, torn or cut into cubes
2–4 butterflied sardine fillets, checked for bones, from a sustainable source
oil, for brushing
a handful of basil leaves, shredded
a handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
zest and juice of ½ lemon
a large handful of rocket leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4.

Arrange the tomatoes cut-side up in a single layer in a large roasting tray. Sprinkle over ¼ teaspoon of salt, the sugar, chilli flakes and half the thyme leaves. Drizzle with the vinegar and 1–2 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil. Roast on the top shelf of the oven for 30–35 minutes until the tomatoes have softened.

Meanwhile, place the bread chunks in a second roasting tray and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, season with salt and sprinkle over the remaining thyme. Toss to coat, then arrange in a single layer and roast on the middle shelf of the oven for 12–15 minutes until the bread is crunchy and lightly toasted.

Towards the end of the tomato and bread cooking time, prepare the sardines. Season the fillets on both sides with salt. Brush a non-stick frying pan with oil and heat until very hot. Add the sardines and cook, skin-side down, for 2–3 minutes until golden. Gently turn the fillets over and cook the other side for 40–60 seconds or until cooked through.

Arrange the roasted tomatoes on serving plates. Toss the toasted bread through any juices in the tomato roasting tray then arrange on the plates over the tomatoes. Place the sardines on top and scatter with the herbs. Sprinkle with lemon zest and squeeze over some juice. Top with rocket leaves and finish with a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a grind of pepper. Serve immediately.

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