When it comes to Japanese food, filleting a fish is more than just a part of the cooking process. As the length and thickness of fish can determine the final flavors in a raw dish like those of sushi and sashimi, filleting a fish can make a difference.
Catching a fish can be as simple as casting out a line with bait, however filleting the fish requires a whole different set of skills which requires finesse. Knowing how to properly fillet a fish can make a huge difference when it comes to how much meat is harvested and can be the difference in having just enough meat for a side dish, or enough for a full meal. Freshly cut fillets also taste much better than pre-cut. Below, we’ll go over and explain how to properly fillet a fish.
Step 1: Bleeding, Descaling, and Gutting the Fish
The first step is letting the fish bleed out. For fresh catches, it’s important to let the fish bleed out in order to preserve the meat. To do this, make a shallow incision with a knife under the fish’s gills and snap its head backwards to break the spinal cord. Next, thread a rope through the fish’s mouth and out of its gills, and let it bleed out for a few minutes.
Letting freshly caught fish bleed out is an important step in preserving the taste and texture of the fish. Fish that aren’t allowed to bleed out will make the preparation much messier, and in its final moments, it will experience more stress which produces more chemicals in its body, thus decreasing the quality of the meat.
It’s also important to put a fresh catch on ice after it’s been thoroughly bled out, to further preserve its freshness. It’s recommended to keep the fish on ice until it’s ready to be scaled and cleaned.
After letting the fish bleed out,
we move onto the second step which is to descale the fish with the back of a knife. The fish scales can be scraped off the fish by utilizing long strokes with the back of a knife from the tail to the head of the fish. Skinning the fish also removes its scales, and this can be done after the fish has been successfully filleted. When purchasing fish, you can ask your fishmonger to scale it for you. While descaling fish’s is recommended, it’s not required. If you like your fish fillets to have scales, then leave them on.
The last step is to cut open the fish’s stomach to remove its guts.
Starting from the tail, make an incision along the fish’s body towards its head and open the fish up. Wearing gloves, remove the guts with your hands, then use cold water to rinse out any leftovers inside. Once you are done, you should have a completely clean fish, except for the skin. This process can also be done with fresh fish at the body of water where it was caught. Keep in mind, the smell of guts can attract wildlife such as bears, so be mindful of where you are and be sure to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself from unexpected situations that may arise.
Gutting is a messy process, so make sure you have a trash can nearby if you’re not by the water. If gutting on a cutting board, make sure you wipe down the board and the surrounding area afterwards, as the chances of cross-contamination is high.
The fourth step is to chop off the head at the gills.
You’ll start by laying the fish on one of its sides and cut the head off where it meets the gills. Cut with a sharp knife right through the fish’s spine and follow through to completely sever the head from the body; this may take a little extra pressure. Afterwards, you can discard the head or keep it on ice for other uses such as making fish stock.
This concludes Part 1 of our guide. In our next article, “How to Fillet a Fish Part 2”, we’ll continue to go in-depth on how to properly fillet a fish.