How To Fillet A Fish? ( The Best Way )

Discussion in 'Recipes' started by smartcooker303, Apr 8, 2010.

  1. smartcooker303

    smartcooker303

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     It takes a certain amount of touch to fillet a fish, but expending a little more effort at the cleaning stage is worth it because it means no bones at the eating stage. When you get the hang of filleting, you can zip through a pile of fish pretty quickly, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment that you can do something as well as the old-timers.

    So, let's begin the work:

    *Hold the fish on the cutting board with the back of the fish toward you. Using a thin flexible knife, cut through the back of the head to the backbone and turn the blade so it's running along the backbone.

    *Hold the fish by placing your non cutting hand over the head. Push the knife along the backbone to the tail using a sawing motion.

    *Pull the fillet away from the body of the fish while making small careful cuts with the knife to retain as much flesh as possible.

    *Using small strokes of the knife, remove the fillet from the rib cage, feeling your way around the bones with the knife.

    *Turn the fish over and repeat steps 1 through 3 on the other side. Using a flat bladed knife, slice a bit of the skin away from the flesh. 

    *Cut a hole in the loosened skin so you can fit your finger through it.

    *Hold the skin through the finger hole and pull the skin away from the fillet, using the knife to hold the fillet down. Hold the knife at a 45 degree angle.

    *With your fingers and a clean tweezer, feel for any pin bones and pull them out of the fillets.

    Take it slow on your first few to make sure you get the hang of it. Once you do, you’ll start to zip through your stringer like a pro.
     
  2. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    I filet slightly differently. You can find the instructions here: http://www.the-outdoor-sports-advisor.com/cleaning-fish.html, along with other fish prep methods.

    There are two major differences. First, as you slice towards the tail, actually cut through the rib bones etc. It's faster and easier to cut them away afterwards than to do all that sawing-with-the-knife-tip stuff.

    Second, there is no reason to cut the filet off if you're going to remove the skin. Cut down towards the tail, but leave the skin intact to serve as a hinge. Flip the filet over. The weight of the fish will serve as an anchor as you slice the flesh off the skin. Much quicker. And much easier than wrestling with a flap of skin.
     
  3. maryb

    maryb

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    Way I learned KYH was the same as you. Some fish I don't bother removing the rib bones because they are so easy to pick out once cooked and they get sort or crunchy on the edges after being fried and are good to chew on. Northern pike will have a line of Y bones that is very difficult to remove unless the fish is pretty large. I know they are there when I eat the fish and leave them in. This is home cooking though and not serving to customers.
     
  4. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Yeah, the pikes are a little different, Mary, because of the Y bones.

    I can't imagine cleaning pickeral for that reason. But with Northern and Musky it's relatively easy.

    Start by putting the fish on its belly. Then cut down to the backbone and use it as a guide to cut a filet off the top of the fish. Looking down on it you'll see the backbone flanked on each side by a line. Those are the tips of the Y bones. Using them as a guide, remove the filets from the sides. As you move back, the Y bones disappear. At that point you cut a little deep, just like cutting a regular filet.

    What you mind up with from a pike is 4 filets and the back piece. If you split that you have five filets.

    This really sounds a lot more complicated than it is.
     
  5. maryb

    maryb

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    I just pick out the Y bones as I eat /img/vbsmilies/smilies/lol.gif bones in fish don't bother me as long as I know they are there.
     
  6. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    A lot of people want to know how to cut fish to get it ready for sashimi and sushi.  Of course, cutting the actual portions requires blocking as well.  But it might be interesting for some people to learn how to get the fillets.  So, here are:

    20(!) steps steps to fillet a medium sized, round fish Japanese style:

    (You'll need a chef's/gyuto or deba appropriately sized for the fish, and a long slicer/sujibiki or yanigaba.  The first 14 steps are with the chef's/gyuto or deba, the last four with the slicer or yani.) 
     
    1. Scale the fish, using the edge of your .
    2. Check to make sure scaling is complete, pick up any scales you may have missed because they were hiding under fins, etc.
    3. Rinse fish and board, making sure there are no scales left on the board.
    4. Cut a vent in the belly
    5. Turn fish so it's back is towards you, and it's head towards your knife hand.
    6. Make the first head cut:  Cut down to the spine without cutting all the way through it.  The cut should be located just behind the pectoral fin (behind the gill vent), and end right behind the skull.  It should be angled so that the top of the head will be distinctly shorter than the bottom.   The cut should be made mostly by "push cut."  In any case, it should not require more than a single draw.  Sawing is bad fish technique.  Don't do it. 
    7. Turn the fish over, belly facing you, head still towards your knife hand.  Repeat the previous cut, but this time go just barely through the spine.
    8. Put down your knife and remove the head.  If you weren't too rough, the gill structure should come with it. 
    9. Clean the guts from the vent.  Check to make sure the belly is completely cleaned.
    10. Rinse the fish and board, washing off any blood.  Check for scales again. 
    11. Orient the fish as it was before you cut off the head -- head end facing your knife hand, back towards you.  Starting at the head end, use your tip to find the spine, and your edge to find the backbones. 
    12. Keep your knife as horizontal as possible and run it down the length of the fish.  Allow yourself a little room from the exact center of the back.  You should pass the dorsal fin easily.   Use the spine as the guide for the knife tip.  Make the cut quickly.  Don't be hesitant and don't saw.   Better to leave a little flesh than to create rough surfaces.  Cut through the skin when the knife is very close to the tail. 
    13. When you've completed the cut. turn the fish around so that the belly is towards you and the head faces your off hand.   Use your offhand to fold back the flap of flesh at the tail, insert your knife there and make a single cut down the entire length of the fish -- right through the rib bones. 
    14. The first fillet should be free.  Lift it off, set it aside and repeat the process.  Remember, always fillet with the second side, flesh up.
    15. Lay the fillets out, skin side up, and cut off the dorsal and anal fins -- if you didn't already remove them because they cut in the way during the filleting.  
    16. Turn the fillets (again!) skin side down with the belly towards you, and the back  away.  Use the point of your slicer or yanigaba to carve behind the rib bones.  You'll have to use several passes to completely cut it out so you can lift the rib cage in one piece.  Try to make as few cuts while preserving as much as possible. 
    17. Keeping the fillets with the same orientation, use your slicer or yani to cut a very thin slice off the head end -- on the bias.   Cut into the flesh between the skin and the flesh, angling your knife slightly down so it gets right down to the skin but doesn't cut through it. 
    18. When you've got the entire width of your knife in the fish, grab the skin (where you made the entry cut) with your offhand.
    19. Keeping the edge angled very slightly down toward the skin, wiggle your knife while you pull the fish into the edge.  You can move the knife forward if you're working on a short board.   Keep pulling until you've pulled the entire fish past the edge, and the skin will come off very cleanly -- while the fish flesh itself will be slick as glass.
    20. Keep the fillets oriented so that what used to be the skin side is down on the board.  Close your eyes and use your fingers to feel for pin bones.  Use a special pin-bone remover (which is like a pair of flat end tweezers), flat end tweezers or needle nose pliers to pull out all of the pin bones.  You may of course open your eyes, but most people find their finger tips are their most sensitive without visual distraction.  Try and pull the bones out in whichever directions do the least damage to the flesh.  This can vary from fish to fish and even bone to bone.    

    Some additional notes:


    It seems like a lot of steps, but once you've done it a few times, the whole process goes very quickly.  Once the scaling is done, the whole process shouldn't take more than a few minutes -- at most.  Less than a minute for the head, and about the same for the actuall filleting.  Another minute for trimming and skinning.  Taking the pin bones takes as long as it takes -- take your time and do a good job.    Unless you're really well set up for it, it's keeping the board and fish clean that will take most of your time.

    The particular type of knife matters less than its sharpness.  Fish cuts should be glass smooth, and that means a very sharp knife.  While I mentioned the types of knives used for this kind of filleting, they only make it easier.  You can work with anything -- so long as it's sharp.  FWIW, I use a chef's and a slicer. 

    Sharpness and sharpening are key to doing a good job.  Fish sharpness is a little different from meat sharpness.  If you reserve separate knives for meat and fish, they both should be sharp -- as sharp as you can cut.  But red meat cuts better with a little more coarseness, "tooth" if you will, while fish -- especially for raw presentations -- wants a very polished edge.  This has to do with the structures of the different flesh.

    At any rate, a 6000# polish (using the JIS grit standard) is about as coarse as you want to get for fish cutting.   

    Since I know the questions are going begging:  (A) It's not a big issue either way with poultry; and, (B) Vegetable prep wants polish, just like fish.

    It would be unrealistic to expect experienced people to switch from whatever they're doing to the Japanese technique, unless they have a huge interest in raw fish.  But I hope this was at least interesting.

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2010
  7. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    bones in fish don't bother me as long as I know they are there.

    For me it really depends on the kind of fish and how it was prepared. For instance, a whole baked or poached salmon is fine. I just slide portions right off the bone structure. But most of the time I don't want bones hidden in the flesh.

    That's one reason I don't eat fried sucker, for example. I'm not up to fighting those bones. On the other hand, I'll half-cook a sucker, strip the meat off the bones, and then use it to make a chowder.

    If we're talking filets, I don't want any bones, period. Nor should there be any if the fish was fileted right.
     
  8. nichole

    nichole

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    This is great.  My secret in filleting fish or just about anything that needs filleting is the fillet knife.  It should be bendy and sharp! 
     
  9. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Unless your name is Morimoto; in which case you use a 12 inch chef's knive. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/thumb.gif

    Seriously, Nichole, I'm always surprised at the number of cooks who don't use filet knives. Not just for fileting fish---they have a myriad of uses. For instance, you can't beat them for cutting citrus supremes.

    Many people prefer an electric knife for fileting. I've never been able to get the hang of them. And, the fact is, a manual filet knife is at least as fast.
     
  10. maryb

    maryb

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    I have a 20+ year old rapala brand filet knife that I use for fish mainly but it gets used to debone chicken too. The thin flexible blade works great. The primary fish I run into here are walleye, northern pike, and the various panfish and the only one with tricky bones is the northern.
     
  11. crimsonmist308

    crimsonmist308

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     when it comes to fish like salmon, i have noticed when i lay the filet over a 2 liter Coke bottle,
    the pin bones stick waaay up and are easier to find than when laying the filet flat on a cutting board.
    btw: when i filet a fish, i use a deba knife and i don't cut through the rib cage.  why stress a knife's
    edge by popping it through bones??
    i generally follow b_d_l's instructions except after step #13 i cut the flesh off the ribs instead
    of cutting through the ribs.
     
  12. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Good tip about the coke bottle, Crimson. Any round surface will do, even a mixing bowl.

    I disagree, however, with the idea that something like salmon rib bones will stress a good knife. I've used mine that way for more years than I care to count, and have yet to hurt a blade.
     
  13. chefbillyb

    chefbillyb

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    Good tip on the Coke Btl to remove the bones. I have a cook that will ask me if its OK to us a Pepsi btl instead. Of course being the good training Chef that I am, I will tell him to follow the directions, its says Coke btl...........................................Billyb
     
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  14. chefedb

    chefedb

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     Every fish is slightly different, you don't clean and fillet a Dover Sole same way as Salmon. Key is long thin extremely sharp knife. 
    A snapper for example , after removing both fillets then the skin is removed by sliding knife from the tail side up towards head side  between skin and flesh starting with skin side on bottom.  In some fish there are no pin bones.
        One of hardest to do is Real  Chilian Sea Bass because bones go in all directions. I butcher about 15 or 20 different species per week in season . The smaller the fish ,the harder and the older the fish the harder.to clean and fillet.
        Trick to scaling for volume is use a curly coat stainless steel scrubber  under cold running water scales come right off. Fingers find pin bones and needle nose pliers take them out. Put on ice as soon as possible but don't let ice or water touch fillets .Either put ice in plastic bags or fish in plastic bags ,if fillets get wet they get water logged and mushy and also change color. .
     
  15. oldpro

    oldpro

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    I definitely agree with Ed that every fish is at least slightly different.  I think it helps a lot to have an assortment of filet knives to fit the species and the size fish you are working with.  With redfish and large snapper, I will usually make the first cut behind the head through to the backbone to the fish throat with a filet knife with a serrated blade.  These fish have thick scales and will dull a regualar filet knife pretty quickly.  From there I will use a standard filet knife of a length that is proportional to the size of the fish. After the first cut you can work under the skin of the fish and get a smooth cut.  My longest blade is probably 14 inches, and my shortest around 8 inches.  On large snapper I generally use three knives, and I always start with very sharp knives.  Speckled trout are pretty easy, and one good standard filet knife will knock them out. 

    I'm not bad at fileting fish as far as amateurs go.  In fact, I thought I was pretty good until I watched some pros that made their living cleaning fish in Cabo - and some here in the gulf coast area.  They are REALLY good, and REALLY fast.  I watched them filet some mahi and blackfin tuna quicker than I could peel a shrimp. 

    If any of you are just learning, it would be time well spent to go watch some pros do their thing.



     
     
  16. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    If any of you are just learning, it would be time well spent to go watch some pros do their thing

    If nothing else it will teach you humility!

    But as with all things in life, the more you do it, the better at it you become. And those guys do a lot of fileting.
     
  17. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    There are a lot of different ways to do fish.  If a long, thin, knife is necessary, or serrations for that matter, pity all the sushi guys who are doing it wrong.

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2010
  18. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    I don't think anyone is claiming a particular blade is necessary, BDL. They're talking about what they use, and why it works for them.

    Take OldPro's last post. I don't think I've ever even seen a filet knife with a serrated edge. I've certainly never used one. But if that's what works best for him, then it's the best tool for the job.

    I know many fishermen---both sport anglers and professionals---who don't use anything for fileting except an electric knife. They are neither right nor wrong. They're just using what works best for them. And if they belonged to this community I'm sure they'd be explaining why their choice makes sense. But they wouldn't be claiming that an electric knife is necessary to do the job.

    I've fileted more than my share of fish using a chef's knife. Would I reach for one as my first choice? Not on your life. For me, a filet knife (smooth edged) is the first choice, followed, in certain situations, by my 8" slicer. Are those necessary? Absolutely not. But for me they make the job faster, easier, and more precise.

    All that aside, however, there is a reason why they're called filet knives. No, they're not necessary. But they were designed to perform that specific task; and do it very well.

    FWIW, no matter what you choose, knifewise, if you want the ultimate test of your fileting skills, work on a triggerfish or three. You might decide that a straight razor and a Skill saw are actually necessary tools.

     
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2010
  19. oldpro

    oldpro

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    Ditto on cleaning triggerfish.  We will usually keep a few when we fish the rigs offshore because of their quality on the table.  Another tough one to clean is the sheepshead, which is also worth the trouble.  A good friend was in New Orleans recently and got the "bay snapper" on the special.  It was so good he asked the waiter what it really was.  Turned out to be sheepshead.

    But the absolute heavyweight champion of difficult fish to clean is the alligator gar.  My coonass friend wanted to keep one recently to show me how good they were.  We caught one in the 40 pound range and flopped it up on the cleaning table.  He went home and he came back with his Skil saw, which he said was his weapon of choice for cleaning gar.  It worked.

    BDL - I certainly don't think the sushi chefs have it wrong in their choice of knives.  I've just made some personal choices that have worked best for me after a lot of trial and error.  And I've burned up more electric knives fileting fish than I'd like to admit.  Now, I pretty much clean Amish (no electricity), and I go to the cleaning table with a pretty good assortment of knives. 
     
  20. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Another tough one to clean is the sheepshead.....

    For the same reason. Both fish make their livings off of barnacles; and their leather-like skin protects them from getting cut by those razor-like shells.

    And you're right about it being worth the effort of cleaning them. Triggerfish, in particular, is one of the most underused fish going. And yet, it's one of the best on the table.

    One benefit is that at places like Avalon Pier, near Kill Devil Hills, most anglers think of them as trash fish, and gladly give them to you. Their loss, as the poet once said.....