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Methods & Techniques

How To Fillet A Fish

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How to fillet a (round) fish.

Filleting a fish is fun and satisfying. Every aspiring home cook should always fillet their fish.

Here’s how I fillet a fish. Everybody has their own way, but I learned from my fishmonger at Poulters fish at Garson Farm in Esher. He’s been filleting fish from the age of 5 and reckons he fillets hundreds of fish each weekend – so he should know.

You will need:

  • A round fish, I’ve used a small farmed sea bass.
  • A non-permeable chopping board – blue is the colour you should use – I have one of these but it is very dark for photography (which is why you never see commercial kitchen standard boards on TV food programmes).
  • A VERY sharp knife. I use a Wüsthof ‘sandwich’ knife – a narrow cooks knife will also work well. My fishmonger uses a straight non flexible knife that is very similar to this. I also have a Japanese Deba knife – but this is quite tricky to work with – but good fun. You don’t need to get hung up on the knife providing it is fairly narrow and very sharp. NB: a classic fish filleting knife is flexible. Use this if you have one. Again my fishmonger only uses a rigid knife for all his fish. I have seen the results and he is certainly not disadvantaged.
  1. Start by having the fishmonger scale and gut the fish.
  2. To begin filleting take off the head. Work from right behind the pectoral fin, next to the gills. Make a strong bold cut from each side of the body.
  3. Start at the head(less) end – hold the fish down flat with your left hand (if right handed) and cut just above the backbone. Work your way into the flesh keeping the knife ontop of the bones. You should be able to feel the bones on the knife. Keep the knife parallel with the bones and slice. For the first few time the tendency is to make short dabbing slices with the tip of the blade. But imagine my fishmonger who will do this in two or three strokes only.
  4. The trick is how to negotiate the rib cage. Most people will cut across the fish and cut through the rib cage. The rib bones then remain attached to the fillet, which need to be removed. This is very fiddly and wastes fish flesh. So fillet the fish on one side up to the rib cage and then work back toward the tail cutting all through the fish. (Just one of the strokes my fishmonger makes.)
  5. Now go back and negotiate the rib cage. It’s a knack and a feel. You may need to do this a few times! Feel the rib bones on the knife and bend and curve the knife in an arc following the shape of the bones. If you get this right you are left with the rib bones on the carcass. Sounds a bit odd, but it is very satisfying.
  6. Repeat on the other side working from the tail end.
  7. There will be pin bones on the thick side of each fillet – these are unavoidable – they can be pulled out with boning tweezers – or simply cut-out with a ‘V’ shape, trying not to waste flesh.

I have kept the skin on the bass as bass skin is good and tasty. See the skinning gif for removing the skin.

The demonstration ends with cutting the fillets in to chunks for fish taco.


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