Sardine and tomato soup with basil oil

Sardine and tomato soup with basil oil

British Seafood
David Loftus

I love oily sardines with just-picked, summery tomatoes, and bringing them together in a light, flavoursome soup works a treat. Finish with a drizzle of basil oil for a Mediterranean touch.


Quantity Ingredient
1kg sardines, scaled, gutted and washed, plus an extra 4 butterflied sardines to serve, (see note)
100ml olive oil
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
2 leeks, washed and chopped, (white and pale green part only)
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves
30 basil leaves
500g ripe, flavourful plum tomatoes, halved and chopped
1 litre water

To serve

Quantity Ingredient
Basil oil


  1. Heat a large saucepan over a medium heat, then add half the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions, fennel, leeks, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves and basil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring all the time. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes, then add the water and simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. While the soup base is simmering, heat a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add a drizzle of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add as many sardines as you can fit into the pan in a single layer and cook until blistered and golden, about 4 minutes. Flip them over and cook for another 4 minutes. Repeat, if necessary, to cook the rest of the sardines, adding them to the soup pan as they are cooked.
  3. Tip the contents of the soup pan into a food processor or blender, or use a hand-held stick blender to blitz the soup until it is as smooth as you can possibly get it. Strain through a sieve into a clean saucepan and set aside.
  4. When you are ready to serve, place a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. When the pan is hot, add a drizzle of oil and lay the butterflied sardine fillets in the pan, skin side down. Cook, without moving, for 2 minutes, then take the pan off the heat and flip the sardine fillets over; they will finish cooking in the residual heat.
  5. Meanwhile, gently reheat the soup, taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Divide the soup between warmed bowls and place a butterflied sardine on top of each portion. Drizzle with some basil oil and serve.

Butterflying fish

  • This is a great technique for smaller round fish, such as sardines, herring and small red mullet. If necessary, remove the guts and cut off the head, fins and gills. Extend the cut from gutting the fish so the fish is opened from top to tail end.

    Now cut down both sides of the skeleton to release the flesh, without cutting right through. Using the palm of your hand, gently push down onto the back of the fish until the backbone is flat against the chopping board and the fillets are either side.

    With most fish, you can simply pull out the backbone with your fingers, but if that isn’t possible, use strong scissors and then trim off the backbone. Now use a filleting knife to trim the fish neatly and pin-bone using tweezers. The butterflied fish is now ready to cook.
British Seafood
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