Skip to Content

Can you use sardines instead of anchovies in Caesar dressing?

Caesar salad dressing is a classic and beloved salad dressing that has been popular for decades. The hallmark ingredients that give Caesar dressing its distinctive flavor are anchovies, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, Dijon mustard, olive oil, and black pepper. While most traditional recipes call specifically for anchovies, some may wonder whether sardines can be used as a substitute in Caesar dressing recipes. Here is a comprehensive look at whether or not sardines can stand in for anchovies when making homemade Caesar dressing.

An Overview of Anchovies vs. Sardines

Before examining if sardines can sub for anchovies in Caesar dressing, it helps to first understand what anchovies and sardines are and how they differ:

  • Anchovies are small, oily fish in the Engraulidae family. They have a strong, salty, umami flavor and are a traditional inclusion in many Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. Anchovies used for cooking or Caesar dressing are usually cured or preserved in oil or salt.
  • Sardines are slightly larger oily fish in the Clupeidae family. Like anchovies, they also have a bold, fishy taste. Sardines used for cooking are typically canned in oil or water.
  • While anchovies and sardines are different types of fish, they have some similarities in their rich, fishy flavor profiles and high oil content thanks to their fatty flesh.
  • However, sardines tend to have a less pronounced anchovy-like taste than anchovies themselves. Anchovy flavor is considered very intense, while sardines are somewhat more mellow.

Given the overlaps in oiliness, fishiness, and saltiness, sardines make one of the closest substitutes for anchovies in recipes like Caesar dressing. However, sardines bring their own unique nuances compared to anchovies.

The Role of Anchovies in Caesar Dressing

Before swapping sardines for anchovies, it’s important to understand the key roles anchovies play in Caesar dressing:

  • Salty, umami flavor – Cured anchovies add a major punch of salty, savory umami flavor to Caesar dressing. This gives the dressing complexity.
  • Fishy notes – In addition to saltiness, the anchovy fillets impart subtle fishy undertones.
  • Mouthfeel – Oil-packed anchovies significantly contribute to the creamy mouthfeel and texture of the dressing.
  • Ingredient synergy – The anchovies balance and enhance the other ingredients like garlic, lemon juice, Parmesan, and Worcestershire sauce.

For the dressing to retain its iconic Caesar profile, any anchovy substitute must be able to fill these functions to some degree.

Can Sardines Work as Anchovy Substitutes?

When weighed against the signature role anchovies play, sardines can work relatively well:

  • Salty, umami flavor – While perhaps not as intense, sardines still supply plenty of salty, umami richness.
  • Fishy taste – Sardines have a noticeable fishy flavor, though it may be slightly milder than anchovies.
  • Mouthfeel – Canned sardines packed in oil can lend creaminess and texture.
  • Ingredient synergy – Sardines blend with Caesar ingredients like lemon, garlic, cheese, and Worcestershire.

So in terms of standing in for the core functions of anchovies, sardines can deliver on the salty savoriness, fishy flavor, oil content, and synergistic melding of ingredients. Their subtly mellower taste even makes them accessible for those who find anchovies too overpowering.

Key Considerations for Substitution

However, there are some important notes to keep in mind when substituting sardines for anchovies in homemade Caesar dressing:

  • You may need a larger quantity of sardines by weight compared to anchovies to get equivalent flavor intensity. The mellower sardine taste means you need more volume.
  • Adjust saltiness carefully, as sardines packed in salt rather than oil may make the dressing overly salty if used as a 1:1 substitution. Taste as you go.
  • Drain any excess oil/liquid from canned sardines before adding to the dressing if needed to prevent thinning out the texture too much.
  • Chop or mash the sardine fillets into a paste for seamless blending into the dressing, just as you would with anchovy fillets.
  • Sardines have small bones – be vigilant when pureeing to avoid any bones making it into the finished dressing.

Accounting for these factors will help you successfully pull off the swap.

Sardine Caesar Dressing Recipe

This recipe demonstrates how to substitute sardines for anchovies when making Caesar dressing at home:


  • 2 cans or 3.75 oz sardines packed in olive oil, drained
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Drain the oil from the canned sardines into a mixing bowl. Reserve sardines.
  2. Add garlic, lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire, and egg yolk to the bowl. Whisk together.
  3. Mash the sardines thoroughly with a fork to form a paste. Add to the mixing bowl.
  4. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking constantly to emulsify and thicken the dressing.
  5. Once emulsified, mix in the Parmesan. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
  6. If dressing is too thin, continue whisking in oil slowly until desired consistency is reached.
  7. Refrigerate until ready to toss with romaine lettuce and top with croutons and more Parmesan.

The combination of mashed sardines, lemon juice, savory seasonings, and olive oil creates a quick homemade Caesar dressing with plenty of rich, fishy flavor even without anchovies. Tweak the amount of sardines to suit your own taste preferences for the perfect anchovy-free Caesar dressing.


Sardines can make a fine substitute for anchovies when preparing Caesar salad dressing at home. While sardines have a slightly milder flavor, they still provide the requisite saltiness, fishiness, and oil content to produce a flavorful emulsion. With some recipe adjustments to account for differences in saltiness and flavor intensity, sardines can stand in for anchovies in a pinch. The swap adds versatility for those who need to avoid anchovies or simply want to put a new spin on a classic. With the right techniques, sardine Caesar dressing can be just as delicious as the traditional version.