Now that you’ve read our Part 1 guide on how to fillet a fish, let’s move onto Part 2 where we discuss how to make precise fillet cuts and how to remove bones, skin, and fat.
Step 2: Making Precise Fillet Cuts
The first step to making precise fillet cuts is to use a pair of scissors to cut away the fish’s fins along its top, sides, and underside. This step should be done prior to making your fillet cuts to ensure the cut is more precise and it also removes unnecessary parts of the fish that might get in the way. This step can also be done at the same time as descaling, but it must be done prior to cutting.
Next, take your knife and run it down the fish’s spine starting from its tail towards its head. Start your cut at the base of the tail and use the backbone to guide your cut. Your cutting motion should be smooth and gentle. As you make your cut, lift the flesh to ensure your cut is still moving in a straight line across the backbone.
Step 3 is to run your knife over the fish’s rib cage as opposed to through it. Instead of sawing through the bones, use your knife to gently work the shape of the rib cage so the bones become exposed. These bones can later be removed with tweezers.
After you’ve completed the step above, turn the fish over so its spine is touching the cutting board, and once again run your knife down the backbone starting from the tail to the head. At this time, the fish is lighter, and you won’t have much to grasp onto anymore due to the first cut, therefore the second side can be trickier to work on that the first. Be mindful that the fish might slip off the cutting board, as it will be slicker after the first fillet is cut away. Once this is done, you should have two large fillets.
If you plan on having a barbecue and grilling your fish, you should consider cutting each fillet into steaks as it makes it much easier to work this. To do this, measure out slices about 1.5’’ (3.8cm) thick on each fillet and cut with your knife. The leftover meat can be used for smaller steaks for kids or can be used in fish stock. If you’re thinking of grilling your fish, don’t remove the bones or the skin as it helps maintain the structure of the fish on the grill.
Step 3: Removing Bones, Skin, and Fat
The first part of Step 3 is to debone the fillets with tweezers or a boning knife. Bones will always be present in fillets, but you can remove them once the flesh is removed from the spine. With your tweezers ready, feel along the middle of the fillet from head to tail for bones, and remove them accordingly.
Next, it’s time to skin the fillet with a fillet knife. Place the fillet skin-side down on the cutting board and make a cut where the skin meets the flesh. Move your knife towards the opposite end, and as you slice, be sure to firmly grasp the skin and pull it away. Similar to descale, it’s recommended that the skin is removed before preparing the fillet. If you like the skin on your fish, you can leave it on, however the fish skin is usually chewy and not everyone enjoys it though it is a source of additional nutrients and vitamins.
After skinning the fillet, it’s time to trim away excess fat. The amount of fat present will depend on the type of fish you’re working on. Mackerel, salmon, and lake trout and known for being high in fat. To remove the fat, simply use your fillet knife and carefully cut it away as you would with a steak. Fish fillets are generally served as lean as possible, but if you like the extra fat, by all means leave it on.
Lastly, rinse the fillet with water, then put it on ice if you don’t plan on cooking it right away. For later use, run water over the fillet, then dry it with a paper towel. When drying, ensure that you don’t leave any fibers on the flesh. If you don’t plan on cooking the fillet within 2 days, it should be wrapped tightly in plastic within a zip lock bag and put in the freezer. This way, the fillet will stay good for up to 3 months. If you plan on eating the fillet within 2 days, you can fill a container with ice, put the fillet on top, cover it, then put it in a refrigerator. The fish will rot if it’s not kept on ice, therefore you’ll need to replace the ice as it melts.
These steps may seem like a lot, however we guarantee your fillets will be excellent quality and will make your cooking and eating experience a lot better!