Learn how to make sardine cakes! These sardine fritters are a low oil healthy version of typical fried sardines. Get directions to make air fryer sardines and for making sardine fish cakes without potato on the stovetop. You’ll love this alternative to tuna that is packed with calcium and omega-3s. These low carb keto sardine cakes are also gluten free and Paleo-friendly.
Have you been wondering how to cook canned sardines? If so, these sardine croquettes are just what you need! I’m giving you air fryer and stovetop directions so you can make them whichever way you’d prefer.
These air fried sardines are a great way to enjoy fish canned with the bones. You can’t tell the calcium-rich bones have been mashed up in there. Everyone in my family enjoyed these sardine patties.
There are a number of delicious tinned sardine recipes out there, of course. For example, you could make Portuguese sardine fritters, which are typically made with mashed potatoes, and deep fried.
I’ve also seen no-cook recipes for Jamaican sardines where the sardines are mashed with chopped tomato, pepper, and onion. These Jamaican-style sardines are served with crackers for an easy appetizer or snack.
In this recipe, I’m mashing sardines with a variety of herbs and spices, as well as red pepper and scallions. This combination gives you wonderful flavor, and adds a bit of texture to the sardine cakes.
I prefer to air fry canned sardines because I can use a lot less oil. However, if you don’t mind a higher energy dish and want your sardine cakes crispy, pan-fried sardines are a tasty option too.
- ⭐ Benefits
- 🥘 Sardine Cakes Ingredients
- 🍽 Equipment
- 🔪 How to Make Sardine Cakes
- ️⏲️ Cooking Time and Temperature for Sardine Cakes
- 👪 Leftovers
- 🥗 Sardine Cake Side Dishes
- 📋 Calories, Net Carbs, Protein
- 💭 Expert Tips from a Dietitian
- 👩🏻🍳 Other Canned Sardine Recipes
- The Disclaimer…
- 📖 Recipe
- 💬 Comments
Why make canned sardines in the air fryer? Here are some advantages of sardines, whether you’re air frying or pan frying:
- Cheap: Sardines in a can are one of the cheapest seafood options. Sardines tend to be a little more expensive than canned tuna, but offer health benefits you don’t get with tuna. (I’ll cover some of them below!)
- Sustainable: Pacific sardines are considered a sustainable seafood choice on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List. (Note that European Pilchards, AKA Atlantic sardines, are not considered sustainably sourced fish.)
- Non-dairy Calcium: Many non-dairy sources of calcium (such as spinach) are not very bioavailable. Sardines tinned with bones are a good source of calcium with no dairy, and this mineral is bioavailable.
- Omega 3: One of the main advantages of sardines over tuna is that unlike tuna, sardines are oily fish. Like other oily fishes (e.g., salmon, herring), sardines are packed with the omega 3s EPA and DHA. These are fatty acids that promote a healthy heart and brain.
- Vitamin D: Sardines are an excellent source of vitamin D and are rich in an assortment of B vitamins. There are not many natural whole food sources of vitamin D (i.e., not fortified); sardines are one option.
- Low mercury: Sardines are also a low mercury fish option.
- Gluten free: These sardine cakes without bread crumbs are gluten free. They’re also low carb, keto, and Paleo friendly.
- Appetizer or main dish: Though they’re a bit soft for finger food, this protein-packed snack is hearty enough to satisfy a carnivore. Use them as Spanish tapas, or have several for the main course.
- Delicious: Looking for a tasty way to prepare sardines? I think you’re going to love this recipe!
🥘 Sardine Cakes Ingredients
What do you need to make sardine cakes in the air fryer? Here's your shopping list:
- Canned sardines with bones
- Pork panko
- Garlic powder
- Black pepper
- Dried dill
- Lemon zest
- Sliced scallion
- Red bell pepper
- Capers (drained)
- Olive oil
- Cooking oil spray (non-aerosol)
You can use tinned sardines without bones if you’d prefer. However, I highly recommend getting the ones with bones as they’re rich in calcium and other minerals.
Spanish-style sardines or sardines in chili oil will work here if you want that additional layer of flavor. You can find some good options if you want spicy sardine cakes.
Using pork panko rather than bread crumbs as a binder keeps these sardine fritters keto and gluten free. You’re welcome to use regular bread crumbs instead. You could also experiment with ingredients such as coconut flour (though I have not tested this).
These are fish cakes without mayonnaise but I like to add a little drizzle of chipotle mayo on top. You can thin it with a bit of water or oil if it’s too thick.
Sliced scallion greens and toasted sesame seeds are great to have on hand for garnish. I also like to serve them with lemon wedges. A little squeeze of lemon juice is perfect on sardine cakes.
As always, specific quantities of each ingredient are located in the recipe card at the bottom of the post!
To make sardine fritters, you need:
- Good knife
- Air fryer
- Silicone pastry brush (for brushing oil on the patties)
I make my air fryer recipes in a 10-Quart Kalorik Digital Air Fryer Oven. You can air fry sardines in a Ninja Foodi, Philips, Nuwave, Pampered Chef, Actifry, Instant Pot Vortex, Cosori, Breville, etc. However, air fryer time may need to be adjusted depending on the air fryer you use.
It’s a great idea to watch the food closely anytime you try a new air fryer recipe. That way you’ll never accidentally overcook the food!
🔪 How to Make Sardine Cakes
Time to learn how to air fry sardines! Begin by draining your sardines and putting them into a medium-sized bowl. Mash them well with the back of a fork.
Prep your ingredients by thinly slicing the scallion and chopping the bell pepper into ¼-inch dice (0.6 cm). Mix the panko, garlic powder, black pepper, dill, lemon zest, scallion, red pepper, egg, and capers into the sardines.
Shape the sardine mixture into 10 patties. Do not try to make larger sardine cakes- they will crumble! My sardine patties were each about 2½-inches (6 cm) in diameter.
Spray your air fryer tray or air fryer basket with cooking oil spray. Gently put the sardine patties in a single layer on the tray.
I could only fit nine sardine fritters. If your air fryer basket is smaller, you may fit less. Either way, the sardine cakes need to be cooked in batches.
Using a silicone pastry brush, brush the tops of the sardine cakes with olive oil. If you have an air fryer oven, place the tray in the top rack position.
️⏲️ Cooking Time and Temperature for Sardine Cakes
How long to air fry sardine cakes? What temperature to air fry sardines? It takes a total of 18-20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200C) to air fry sardine cakes.
Begin by air frying the sardine croquettes for 12 minutes. Then carefully flip the patties over and air fry an additional 6-8 minutes at 400F (200C). No additional oil is needed.
Let the air fried sardine patties rest for 5 minutes. Then you can drizzle them with chipotle mayo and sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds. Don’t forget the lemon wedges! Yummy!
To pan fry, heat olive oil in a cast iron pan. Cook five sardine patties at a time in the pan over medium heat; they will take 4-5 minutes per side. Take care in flipping them; they are a bit fragile.
Add additional oil to the pan before pan frying the second batch of sardine cakes. I find that pan frying gets them a bit crispier than air frying, but it does require more oil.
Let the sardine fish cakes rest for 5 minutes after pan frying and garnish as you would for the air fried version. One nice thing about these is that you don’t have to check them with a meat thermometer. Canned sardines generally don’t have to be cooked to a safe minimum internal temp of 145F (63C).
Leftover cooked sardine fritters can be kept in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Don’t add the chipotle mayo topping and other garnishes until right before serving.
Reheat the sardine cakes in a skillet on the stovetop with a little oil. Alternatively, microwave the patties on high for 1-2 minutes until heated through.
Sardine cakes without toppings can be wrapped individually in plastic wrap and frozen in freezer bags. There is some texture loss with freezing and they may be more likely to fall apart when defrosted. Air frying may help to firm the sardine cakes back up.
🥗 Sardine Cake Side Dishes
What goes with sardine cakes? I often add both non-starchy veggies plus a starch (either a grain or starchy veg) to my evening meals. For keto, I’d do 2-3 non-starchy vegetables instead.
I like to serve sardine cakes with mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. Here are a few other sides that go with sardines:
- Cauliflower rice
- Brown rice
- Air Fryer Frozen Vegetables
- Air Fryer Yellow Squash
- Instant Pot Fries
- Air Fryer Frozen Onion Rings
📋 Calories, Net Carbs, Protein
One serving of this sardine fritters recipe has 108 calories, 0.7 grams net carbs, and 9.6 grams protein. This is for one air fried sardine cake without any toppings. Pan frying the sardines with the additional oil will add 36 calories per patty.
💭 Expert Tips from a Dietitian
This is a level 2 recipe (transition or weight maintenance). I’m giving you the nutrition information per sardine cake, but I'd have about 3 for a main dish. If you serve three people, there will be one sardine cake left for your family members to fight over. 😉
Each sardine cake gives you 10 grams of filling protein for about 100 calories. To make a lower calorie (level 1) meal, serve these with low oil non-starchy veggies.
Another way to make this a lighter meal is to air fry the sardines rather than pan fry them. You can use a lot less oil when you air fry, 3 tablespoons less here.
The extra added oil from pan frying adds about 36 calories to each sardine cake. That may not seem like much, but if you have 3 sardine fritters, the air fried version cuts over 100 calories from the meal. The little things can add up!
For a higher calorie (level 3) meal, you can pan fry the sardine fritters on the stovetop. Pile on the starchy veggies and grains for your side dishes. You could also enjoy a salad with a high fat dressing, or non-starchy veggies roasted in a generous amount of fat.
Mashed potato can work as a starchy binder in sardine cakes. Simply substitute the panko in this recipe for an equal amount of stiff mashed potatoes. Feel free to add a little more potato if the croquettes aren’t holding together well.
There’s no need to rinse tinned sardines, so save yourself a little work! In fact, you can safely eat sardines straight from the can. (And I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve done so!)
Canned sardines have already been cooked, so they are not a raw product. You can eat them as-is, without heating, or add them to recipes like we’re doing here. You don’t need to worry that they’ve reached a minimum safe temp of 145F (63C), like you do with raw seafood.
Sardines aren’t a good choice for certain types of diets, such as the low-purine diet. In terms of general nutrition though, sardines are a nutrient-dense and healthy food for most people.
It’s possible to fry canned sardines and make them crispy. Martha Stewart recommends dusting them in cornmeal and frying in oil for 2 minutes per side.
👩🏻🍳 Other Canned Sardine Recipes
Want more recipes for canned sardines? Try these:
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All recipes on this website may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on your medical needs and personal preferences. Consult with a registered dietitian or your physician if you need help determining the dietary pattern that may be best for you.
The nutrition information is an estimate provided as a courtesy. It will differ depending on the specific brands and ingredients that you use. Calorie information on food labels may be wildly inaccurate, so please don't sweat the numbers too much.
For more information on how the three recipe levels may help with a weight management goal, refer to my overnight oats no sugar post. Let's get cooking!
Sardine Cakes (Air Fryer Sardine Fritters Recipe)
- 1 lb. canned sardines 454 grams (I use sardines with the bones packed in olive oil)
- ¼ cup pork panko
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon dill weed
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 scallion, sliced
- ½ medium red bell pepper about 3.5 ounces (99 grams)
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1-4 tablespoons olive oil
- cooking oil spray (non-aerosol)
- 2 tablespoons chipotle lime mayo
- 1 scallion, sliced
- ½ teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
- lemon wedges
- Drain the sardines and put them into a medium-sized bowl. Mash them well with the back of a fork.
- Prep your ingredients by thinly slicing the scallion and chopping the bell pepper into ¼-inch dice (0.6 cm). Mix the panko, garlic powder, black pepper, dill, lemon zest, scallion, red pepper, egg, and capers into the sardines.
- Shape the sardine mixture into 10 patties. Do not try to make larger sardine cakes- they will crumble! My sardine patties were each about 2½-inches (6 cm) in diameter.
To air fry sardine cakes:
- Spray your air fryer tray or air fryer basket with cooking oil spray. Gently put the sardine patties in a single layer on the tray. (You will probably have to cook them in batches.)
- Using a silicone pastry brush, brush the tops of the sardine cakes with 1 tablespoon olive oil. If you have an air fryer oven, place the tray in the top rack position.
- Air fry for 12 minutes at 400°F (200°C). Then carefully flip the patties over and air fry an additional 6-8 minutes.
- Let the patties rest for 5 minutes before drizzling with thinned chipotle mayo and sprinkling with green onions and sesame seeds. Serve the lemon wedges on the side.
To cook sardine cakes on stovetop:
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat. Cook five patties in the pan at a time. They will take 4-5 minutes per side. Take care in flipping them; they are a bit fragile.
- When you are ready to cook the final five patties, add an additional 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan. Again you want to cook the patties for 4-5 minutes per side.
- Let the sardine fish cakes rest for 5 minutes after pan frying and garnish as you would for the air fried version.
Very good sardine recipe. I made extra and cooked some in the air fryer, and what wouldn't fit I put in a toaster oven. Both ways cooked equally well.
Summer Yule says
Hi Mike, I'm thrilled that you enjoyed the recipe. Thank you so much for the feedback and rating!
Terrified Amateur says
Congratulation, Summer, on finding an appealing (and, of course, healthy) way to improve current circumstances. Being limited in both our mobility and in our shopping options has increased dependence on canned goods. Far from condemning our menus to die an undistinguished death, as many have, you've found a way to let the ingredients hum.
Current limitations or not. Once you have a full larder again, Summer, boy are we in for a treat! I mean, the fact the you wrested triumph from canned goods speaks highly of your talent.
Summer Yule says
Aw, thanks! I don't really mind meat, poultry, and fish that has been canned or frozen but certain family members are pickier than I am. It requires a bit of creativity to make sure everyone likes the meal! Luckily, I don't mind coming up with new dishes regularly. 🙂