How to butterfly sardines

How to butterfly sardines

by Great British Chefs8 December 2014

How to butterfly sardines

Small fish such as sardines are often cooked whole, making a delicious starring ingredient in many rustic dishes. For a more refined finish, butterflying is a great technique to learn - it removes bones, reduces the cooking time and looks beautiful on the plate. This technique can also be applied to other small round fish, such as herring and small red mullet.


Descale the sardine and rinse under a tap to make sure there are no stray scales stuck to the fish
Lay the sardine on the work surface and starting from the vent hole of the fish, cut through the belly towards the head of the fish. Remove the guts and head and rinse the belly cavity to remove any left-behind entrails and blood, trimming the dorsal fins away with scissors
Lightly press the fish onto a chopping board, so that the empty cavity is against the board and the two fillets are splaying out on either side, skin-side up. Gently but firmly, press down on the back bone to open up the belly area - you will feel the spine coming away from the flesh as you push down
Turn the fish over and carefully pull out the backbone, taking care not to pull the flesh off at the same time
Check over the flesh of the fish to remove any large bones with tweezers, and trim away any fins or jagged edges so the fish looks nice and neat. It is now ready to cook


Sardines are oily fish, so have a rich flavour that works well with other strong flavours and acids to cut through the fattiness. Butterflied sardines are great for cooking on the barbecue, served with Mediterranean-style vegetables or sauces. Robert Thompson serves butterflied sardines with a basil and olive tapenade and confit tomatoes, while Shaun Hill's preference is to pair with salsa verde.

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