Cooking in Venice: Making the Sardine Dish Sarde in Saor

In the March 2013 issue, frequent Dream of Italy contributor Susan Van Allen recounted two incredible cooking classes in Venice. She asked both chefs to teach her to make a Venetian seafood delicacy. If you’re not planning on cooking in Venice, she tells us which Venice restaurants serve this classic dish. Updated 2018.

When I booked this cooking class, I asked if I could learn to make one of my favorite Venetian specialties: Sarde in Saor. It’s a traditional dish of fried sardines marinated in onions, vinegar, and sugar, resulting in an intense, savory flavor. Marinating it for at least a few days is essential to the recipe.

To my pleasant surprise, Chef Patrizia unveils a Sarde in Saor she made for me days earlier, so I could taste her proper rendition, and then shows me another version she’s made: Verdure in Saor, where sardines are replaced with sautéed zucchini, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers.

As I gut the sardines and chop onions, Patrizia tells me how Sarde in Saor originated centuries ago when fisherman would be at sea for weeks at a time. Since there was no refrigeration, fishermen’s wives invented a way of preserving fish so it would last for their husband’s time away from home. In the Renaissance, pine nuts and raisins were added to the recipe, to aid digestion and sweeten the breath.

The kitchen fills with the homey aroma of onions slowly cooking in oil. Patrizia hands me toothpaste to wash my hands, her clever way to take away the fishy sardine smell.

If you’re looking to make Sarde in Saor in Venice, check out Susan’s full article on Venice cooking schools. If you just want to try the dish, here are two restaurants that serve the Venetian classic:

Osteria Oliva Nera
Castello 3417/18 (near San Zaccaria)
(39) 041 5222170

Antiche Carampane
San Polo 1911, (near Rialto)
(39) 041 5240165

Read more about cooking classes in Italy.