In Spain, sardines are at their best right now. The peak runs de Virgen a Virgen (“from Virgin to Virgin”), that is, between the feast days of Carmen (July 16) and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven (August 15).
Fresh sardines are perhaps best grilled over embers, but they are also lovely in rice dishes. Small ones, about 4 inches long and weighing a little under 1 ounce each, can be cooked whole in rice dishes and eaten with the fingers; anything larger, though, needs to be filleted. Here’s how:
Gently scale the sardines with a knife, then fillet them: hold a sardine with one hand and with the other rock the head first upwards breaking the neck, then downwards, and finally firmly pulling it away to draw out the entrails. Run a finger through the cavity to make sure it is clean. At the base of the tail, make an angled incision to the bone using a sharp knife. Slide a thumbnail under the fillet and gently pull it away from the spine. Repeat on other side. Check closely for any bones. Repeat with the remaining sardines. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels.