Sicilian stuffed sardines on plate

How to butterfly sardines

We show you how to remove bones from small fish such as sardines, pilchards and herring. It takes only scissors and chef skills to 'butterfly' the fish from whole in four simple steps.

Fish such as sardines, pilchards and herring are delicious to eat whole, but not everyone likes all the small bones – although they are edible. This method of removing the bones, but keeping the two fillets attached, makes it easier to grill or barbecue the fish, as well as giving you an ‘envelope’ to stuff, as put to use in our Sicilian stuffed sardines recipe, shown above. Have your fish scaled, gutted and washed before you start. Butterflying sardines is easier to do without the head, but the choice is yours.

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Our four-step guide to butterflying sardines: 

Step one: 

Step one butterflying sardines

Open out the gutted fish and place, skin-side up, on your work surface. Holding the tail with one hand, firmly press along the backbone with the other until the fish is completely flat.

Step two: 

step two butterflying sardines

Turn the fish over. (If the head is still attached, use scissors to snip where the backbone begins before you start.) Gently pull away the backbone.

Step three:

Step three butterflying sardines

Keep pulling until you reach the tail end, then cut off the backbone and discard.

Step four:

step 4 finished butterflied sardine

Scrape away any remaining small bones, or remove them with tweezers – then either leave flat for grilling, barbecuing or frying, or fold over ready for stuffing.Put your new skills to good use by trying out one of our sardine recipes