How to Clean Sardines

How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style

How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style
Sardines are full of nutrients and flavor, but just how to clean them?

To Be Continued: Iwashi Ryori
We are continuing our series on iwashi ryori and ‘cleaning sardines’ precedes an amazing recipe; get ready for ‘sardine meatballs’!

Small Fish
Cooking small fish is still not very common in my homeland, but here in Japan they are ubiquitous and tasty. There are a myriad ways to enjoy sardines and Miwa (AKA Paku) gives us a demo on how to clean them, or most any other kind of small fish.

How to Clean Sardines
As mentioned in a previous article on iwashi ryori (sardine cuisine), sardines are a ‘weak’ fish and they deteriorate quickly. Only the freshest should be used for sushi or sashimi. The bellies are extremely fragile and it is best to just cut the belly out with one cut and pull the innards out. Sardines may have a few scales on them, just run the knife over the skin to remove them as necessary. (That wasn’t necessary for us.)

Cleaning Sardines
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style
Notice the sardine on the bottom, the dark spot on the belly is a tear.

Rinse and check for scales
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style
In Japan, sardines are usually quite small and scales are not an issue. The sardine species and size in your region may vary, so give them a looking over.

Removing the Entrails

Cut off the head
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style

Cut off the head and pull away with your knife
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style

Cut the belly to remove entrails
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style

Pull entrails out with belly
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style

Remove entrails
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style
Make sure that you cut out the anus and intestinal remnants. (Miwa missed on this one.)

Removing the Bones
Next comes removing the bones. The rib bones are so thin that they are easily chewed. The backbone is fine left in for deep fried preparations, but if sauteing, simmering, etc you will want to pull it out, and it comes out easily with a light tug.

Splitting the sardine
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style
Run your thumb along the backbone and separate…

Splitting the sardine
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style
…all the way to the tail.

Voilà!
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style
That was easy! Now for the other half.

Cut the skin around the backbone just before the tail
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style

The tail is a handle!
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style

Pulling out the backbone
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style
Gently pull the backbone out via the tail while holding down with your other hand.

Note: The backbone can be fried to make hone senbei, literally ‘bone cracker’. This is actually very tasty and goes great with beer.

Optional Step: Removing the Skin
It depends on what sardine dish you are making but you will probably want to remove the skin. It’s easy.

Peeling the skin away
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style
Start at the head end, on the top of the sardine (back) and peel the meat away from the skin. The end result will produce two fillets.

Peeling the skin away
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style
Peel the skin away from the second fillet.

Ready to be Iwashi Ryori!
How to Clean Sardines Japanese Style

Be sure to catch our next installment of iwashi ryori!

16 Responses to “How to Clean Sardines”

  1. kat says:

    I am still to chicken to try this…

  2. Wow, this is a really good and informative lesson! I learned so much and can’t wait to go buy some sardines tomorrow to try it out!
    THANK YOU so much for so much wonderful information and step by step pictures!

  3. DocChuck says:

    A very nice pictorial “how-to.” My wife and I love fresh sardines, prepared in many different ways. Appreciate you advice on cleaning the little fish.

  4. Great tips and I love the step by step photos!

  5. wow great pictures, and very detailed thank you for posting this up

  6. Jesse says:

    WOW, this is great. Thank you, I can’t wait to try this out myself!

  7. [...] our KyotoFoodie article on how to clean sardines here if you want to do it the old fashioned [...]

  8. Nick says:

    Very cool. I’ve always wanted to know how to clean those little guys.

    Great photo walkthrough.

    Cheers,
    Nick
    http://www.macheesmo.com

  9. gomichild says:

    Fab just what I needed – awesome pics too!

  10. ben says:

    excellent guide and easy to follow – good stuff, just had grilled butterfly sardines with spicey tomato rago and green bean stew

  11. Alliko says:

    I just wanted to send you a huge THANK YOU for your very detailed explanation! I’ve never in my life cleaned a fish before, but was able to do it with ease the very first time, thanks to your blog. And my husband totally loved the karaage we had for dinner!! Keep up the great posts, they are really appreciated!!

  12. IF says:

    Just tried figuring out how to clean sardines. Bingo! Couldn’t have found a better description.

  13. Jeff says:

    Very nice write up and pictures! Thank you.

    Seattle gets some Sardines for a few days so I plan to enjoy them.

  14. [...] Click here for a how-to site on cleaning sardines. I now see that I will have to create a video because I am NOT satisfied with what is out there, but this link will do in a sardine gutting pinch. [...]

  15. honoreen says:

    Sardines I feel taste best when it is scaled and the inners removed…. put in the ingridents and fry it crisp head and tail attached will go with a the best meal, a simple meal and also with your drink…..But no doubt the information is good I am on my way to try it… Thank you!!!

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