• Yield: Makes 6 to 8 aperitivo servings


  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise, Italian-style (see below) or store-bought

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

  • 1 teaspoon Italian chili oil (see Note)

  • Oil for frying

  • 2 large eggs

  • About 2 cups fine dried breadcrumbs

  • 24 fresh sardines, deboned and butterflied, heads removed

  • Fine sea salt


1. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, paprika, and chili oil until the mayonnaise develops a uniform “rusty” color. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Heat 2 inches of oil in a medium heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat.

3. Meanwhile, in a wide shallow bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Place 1 cup of the breadcrumbs in another wide shallow bowl.

4. Dip a sardine into the egg; turn to coat and shake off the excess. Dip the sardine in the breadcrumbs, pressing to adhere. Shake off any excess. Transfer the sardine to a large plate and repeat with the remaining sardines, adding more breadcrumbs as needed.

5. When the oil is hot enough, work in batches, carefully frying 4 sardines at a time, adjusting the heat if necessary (the oil should not smoke) until golden brown, about 45 seconds per side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sardines to a plate lined with paper towels. Dust with salt and serve each batch immediately with individual bowls of the “rust” sauce, then continue frying.

Note: If you can’t find Italian chili oil (olio di peperoncino), you can make your own quickly by heating 1 tablespoon olive oil and a shake of crushed red pepper flakes in a small saucepan over low heat for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool, and strain out the flakes.

Italian-Style Mayonnaise


  • 2 large egg yolks, preferably organic, at room temperature

  • 1 1/4 cups neutral-tasting vegetable oil, such as sunflower seed or grapeseed

  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

  • Fine sea salt to taste

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil


1. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks using a flexible metal whisk until frothy. (Alternatively, you can use a handheld electric or stand mixer.) Gradually add 1/2 cup of the vegetable oil, a tablespoon at a time, whisking continuously until the mixture has thickened. Whisk in the
lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Gradually add the remaining 3/4 cups vegetable oil and 1/4 cup olive oil, whisking continuously. Season with salt to taste.

2. The mayonnaise will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about a week.

Note: While homemade mayonnaise is truly worth the time and energy, you can quickly doll-up the store-bought stuff by whisking 1/4 cup good-quality extra virgin olive oil and the juice of 1/2 lemon into 1 1/2 cups store-bought mayonnaise.

From Aperitivo: The Cocktail Culture of Italy, © 2016, by Marisa Huff. Used by permission of Rizzoli.