How to clean and fillet sardines

Fresh, whole sardines can be cut into a butterfly fillet, or two smaller separate fillets.

- Check to see if the sardine has any large scales on the skin, especially near the head. Remove the scales by scraping with the blade of a knife in short sharp bursts against the grain of the scales and back again.

- Use scissors to cut off the fins from the top and bottom of the fish.

- Use scissors to cut the fish open along the belly from tail to head.

- Turn on a tap at the sink to start a little water running very gently.

- Put your thumb into the cut belly near the tail and gently scrape up towards the head, pushing the guts out of the body.

- Discard the guts and gently rinse the fish inside and out under the tap, being careful not to break the skin.

- To butterfly the fish place it on its side and using a sharp knife cut down either side of the spine at the tail end. Then turn the fish onto its back and work your fingers along the sides of the spine, from tail to head, to separate the spine from the flesh.

- Cut off the tail and head, with spine attached. You should be left with just the meat of the fish, as a butterfly fillet.

- Trim the outer edges of the butterflied fish to remove any fin parts.

- If you want two fillets then cut the butterfly in half along where the spine used to be.

See recipe in full

Sardine beccafico Sardine beccafico

By Giorgio Locatelli

Recipes using this technique

Main course

Light meals & snacks

Starters & nibbles

Skill level


Equipment you will need for this technique

  • Sharp knife, scissors

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