Moroccan stuffed fried sardines are one of the most classic examples of Moroccan street food. Butterflied sardine filets are sandwiched together with a generous layer of chermoula. They’re then rubbed with more chermoula, dipped in flour and pan-fried.
Morocco is a leading exporter of sardines. Within Morocco, sardines are a poor man’s food as much as they are for the rich. They’re an important component of the Moroccan diet, especially in coastal cities. In non-coastal areas you can still find them sold as a street food, but perhaps only on limited days. As example, they’re available in Jama’ El Fna in Marrakesh or in the old Medina of Fez, both inner cities.
Moroccan stuffed fried sardines are given a romantic name due to the genius way they’re coupled, or sandwiched together. We call them sardine mzeouej (married) or machrouk (in association) or ashiq we ma’ashuk (lovers). They’re usually served as part of starters or alongside cooked pulses and fresh salads to make a complete lunch.
Freshly caught small sardines are ideal for this recipe. You can sandwich them together or fold a single sardine filet in half after you fill the cavity with chermoula.
Fried sardines stuffed with chermoula is one of the most emblematic dishes of Moroccan street food, even if one is not in a coastal city.
Small fresh sardines are best. You can make your chermoula ahead of time; a link is in the ingredients below.
- 2.2 lbs fresh sardines (ideally small), scaled, boned and butterflied
- 1 cup chermoula paste
- 1 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1 cup frying oil
- 3 cups flour
- 1 cup durum flour
- lemon wedges
- fresh parsley
Trim the sardines and wash them in fresh water. Drain in a colander and pat dry.
Rub the sardines with 1/3 of the chermoula paste and add some salt to taste. (If you like, you can thin the chermoula first with a couple tablespoons of water.)
Lay a sardine skin side down. Spread generously with chermoula and top symmetrically with another sardine, skin side up. Set aside and repeat with the remaining sardines and chermoula. (Alternatively, you can use a single sardine; fill it with some chermoula and fold it over on itself.)
Cover and marinate the stuffed sardines in the fridge for at least 2 hours .
Remove the sandwiched sardines from the marinade. drain them and coat them with a mix of white and durum flour.
Shallow or deep fry them in a hot oil for about 3 minutes per side. Drain the excess oil and transfer to fried sardines to a plate lined with a kitchen towel or paper.
Serve the fried sardines hot, warm or at room temperature over a bed of parsley or salad leaves. Garnish with lemon wedges and a nice chili sauce such as harissa.
Fried fish is usually served alongside Moroccan white beans in tomato sauce and/or fresh salads such as cucumber, tomato and onion salad.