How to Prepare Sardines

Updated April 17, 2017

Sardines are a small fish many people assume only come packaged in a can. The tender, oily flesh of sardines can be a delightful addition to almost any meal and are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. Preparing fresh sardines for cooking or canning takes quite a bit of time and patience. Preparing canned sardines for a dish is easy and takes only a few steps.

Remove sardines from the can place them into the bowl.

Break each sardine down the middle and remove the backbone, which is consumable but makes the flesh crunchy.

Rinse the sardines for several seconds under hot running water to remove some of the oil. They are now ready to eat.

Rub the sides of each sardine gently under running cold water to remove the scales.

Place one sardine on its side on the cutting board. Cut off the head right near the gills.

Cut the belly off by slicing on a slant from the middle of the gills to the bottom of the tail fin. Scrape out the innards and discard them.

Rinse the fish under cold running water until all the innards are gone.

Open the fish so it is completely flat, and place it down on the cutting board so the flesh is down and skin is up.

Make an incision through the skin, right before the tail, so that the flesh is cut but the backbone is not touched.

Flip the fish over. While grasping the flesh with one hand, grab the tail with your other and slowly pull it downward so the backbone comes away from the flesh.

Use the fresh fish in your favourite dishes or eat it on its own. You can bake, grill, fry or smoke it.


Store unopened cans in a cool dark place for a year or until the expiration date has passed. Once opened, sardines can be stored for up to two days in the refrigerator. Store fresh sardines covered in the fridge for up to two days, though optimally they should be eaten the day they are bought or caught. They can also be stored in a sealed bag in the freezer for up to six months.

Things You'll Need

  • Can of sardines
  • Large bowl
  • or
  • 5 fresh sardines
  • Sharp knife
  • Cutting board
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Based in Kingston, Canada, Samantha Lowe has been writing for publication since 2006. She has written articles for the "Mars' Hill" newspaper and copy for various design projects. Her design and copy for the "Mars' Hill" won the Associated Collegiate Press Pacemaker award in 2008. Lowe holds an Honors BA from Trinity Western University, and a MSc in Occupational Therapy from Queen's University where she is currently doing her PhD.