As part of my ongoing experiments with whole small fish (sardine, smelts, small mackerel), I'm considering drying them at home to produce concentrated umami bombs.
However, I'm admittedly less than thrilled with the instructions I've seen online, which either advise leaving them exposed to the air for an extended period--in which case I fear rapid spoilage and a truly horrible smell--or sticking them in the oven--the idea of which I like more, but which apparently yields a tough 'fish jerky,' which is also not what I had in mind. I've also noticed that most instructions just assume the fish will be gutted, but with fish so small (the ones I get are generally between 5 and 7 cm long, with few going past 9) I generally like to leave the guts in.
What would be the safest method for drying small, oily fish for future use? Should they be brined first for sanitation purposes?