When eating fish, accidentally swallowing the bones is a nightmare for me.

Currently, eating sardine is the only solution due to its soft bone.

I am worried that my health may suffer in the future if I continuously eat sardines that might contain "not so friendly" chemical substances.

I want to learn how to cook fishes to make their bones as soft as those of sardines.

Is there anybody here who knows the secret of making soft bones without "artificial and dangerous" chemical substances?

Do I need a special cooking apparatus to make fish bones soft?

  • 9
    Whatever gave you the bizarre idea that there are "artificial and dangerous" substances in sardines???
    – Marti
    Commented Dec 23, 2010 at 1:17
  • 3
    and why are you swallowing so many bones? buy boneless fish fillets
    – Brendan
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 5:11
  • 11
    My initial reaction, reading this question, was that the "not so friendly" chemical substance of which the OP speaks is mercury. If so, s/he should be aware that sardines have lower mercury levels than most other fish. Large predatory fish, which live a long time eating other fish - and therefore absorbing those fishes' mercury - tend to have much higher mercury levels by the time they're caught and eaten. Small fish like sardines don't live long enough, or eat enough other fish, to build up dangerous levels. If the OP is concerned about additives from processing... for that, I got nothing.
    – MT_Head
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 3:14

8 Answers 8


Sardines are canned, which means the high heat of a pressure canner. That is what softens the bones. If you are wanting softer bones for other kinds of fish, you can either cook them using a pressure cooker or can them. However, this will only work for smaller fish that have smaller bones.

If your main concern is that you will swallow a bone and choke, then buy your fish as fillets only. Most fish fillets have no bones at all. The pin bones that are in salmon fillets can be removed with needle nose pliers, and are so small that you couldn't choke on them if you tried.

  • Thanks @Doug for answering. I will search for and buy a pressure cooker soon. Commented Dec 23, 2010 at 0:57
  • 5
    You don't have to buy whole fishes. Tilapia fillets are not very expensive, and they are a great mild-flavored fish. You can also purchase salmon, tuna, and many other types of fish. My favorite place to purchase these are Aldi and Walmart, as they are very affordable. Commented Dec 23, 2010 at 16:27
  • 4
    additionally, you can buy whole fish and fillet it yourself. Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 11:28
  • also, i have never eaten canned sardines (but, ok, i live in portugal and near the sea, we have access to a lot of fresh fish). how do they compare with fresh fish? Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 11:29
  • Not just small fish: salmon and trout are canned bone-in as well. Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 16:55

The USDA released a paper on the effects of cooking on 'fish bones softening', and you can find it if you search online...they tested pressures of 15, 20 and 25 psi (which gave them temperatures of 220 to 270 degrees water temp under pressure)...and found that even tuna and rockfish had 'gelatinous bones' at the highest temp-pressures.

The only way to cook fish to 'soft bones' (gelatinous) consistency, and not destroy nutritional or flavor values, is to do so with a GOOD pressure cooker capable of 20-psi or more, and cook times from 30-to 120 minutes, based on your own personal tastes.

  1. Raw Sardines do not have soft bones. If they did they wont have a strong skeleton.
  2. All canned fish that have bones in them have soft bones be it large fish or small fish because they are cooked. You will know this because bone in canned salmon has soft bones
  3. Its not about chemicals. As organic canned fish with bones have soft bones. It is because once inside the can the cans are heated to kill any germs, and at the same time cooks the fish like it is in a pressure cooker.
  4. You can cook fish in many ways to make its bones soft and edible. You can cut fish into slices with your favorite spices and use a pressure cooker and cook for 1 hour.
  5. You can also cook it like you would cook pot roast overnight. 8 hours is enough. Use whole fish if you do so.

The spices you put are your choice. I personally like yogurt, chili, lime, cumin and little oil on mine. But you can use anything. Its not the chemicals or spices that make it soft but the cooking method.


cook the whole fish with pressure cooker for 30+ minutes depending on the size of the fish to soften the bones. Here is the article about the popular Indonesian Milkfish dish cooked with high pressure cooker. As we know, milk fish is known for being much bonier than other fish :)


Here is the recipe to try :)



I have cooked salmon and all of the bones were soft enough to be edible. My method:

  1. Put butter or oil on the cooking surface of the cooking dish or pot.
  2. Lay the washed fish on the oiled surface.
  3. Slice an onion and lay the slices on and around the fish.
  4. Put on salt, pepper and a dash of powdered garlic.
  5. Cover the cooking dish/pot and put in an oven at 200 degrees F.
  6. After three hours, the fish and onions are well cooked. And the bones are as soft as those in a can of sardines.

If you can go with picking out big bones from fish before cooking/eating then there is this Chinese (as far as I know) method to soften smaller bones - like smaller bones in a Carp's back.

I've tried this method with roasting stuffed carps in the oven. The carps were rather big - 2-3 kg and spent like an hour and a half in the oven. I suppose this approach won't work with frying or boiling. Haven't tried it, though.

Before cooking the fish, cut its skin in several places (not very deep just to make sure the skin is cut). Then rub it with salt, soak in wine, and let it rest for about 15 minutes. After an hour and a half in the oven smaller back bones should be soft enough to go down unnoticed.


One time I made a mistake making fish stock. I put it on and fell asleep thinking it would be a short nap. Some hours later I woke to find the stock simmering. All the bones and heads were GONE. This is not even a hard boil!

I believe everyone who says fish bones can soften with pressure cooking. Think: When has a fish ever had to live in boiling water? Never. The bones never have to survive this. If Darwin is correct, you need only bones that are good for water that is not boiling :-)


Fillet the pickerel, lay it on table skin side down. Make cuts about one inch apart on the whole fillet. Make the cuts down to the skin. Use flour or bread crumbs or how ever you cook you other fish fillets. Put the fillets in hot oil. The hot oil will run through all the cuts and cook the fine bones in the fillet. You can eat the fillet and not have to worry about bones. Use enough oil so it runs through the cuts.

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