Many species can be filleted, which is cleaning a fish so that no bones remain in the flesh. Except for very small fish (and for trout and members of the pike family, which don't fillet well because of their bone structure), I prefer this method to gutting because it makes for more uniform cooking and more confident eating.
Species such as bass, walleyes, perch, bluegills, and many saltwater fish fillet up easily and well. You'll need a fillet knife, which has a long, narrow and flexible blade; and a cutting board (it's best to dedicate an old one for this chore). A table covered with newspapers will work but can be slippery.
To begin, lay the fish flat on the cutting board with its head to your left. Pick up the pectoral fin and place the edge of the fillet knife on the rear side of its base. Cock the blade so that its tip angles to the left but is not over the gill plate. Now cut straight down to, but not through, the backbone (you'll feel it with your knife).
Now spin the fish so its back is toward you. Hold the knife parallel with the cutting board and, starting at the top of the fish's head at your first cut, begin slicing down the fish along the backbone. Don't cut through the rib cage; just slide your knife point past it. Keep your knife edge just above the dorsal fin. Once past the rib cage, and keeping the knife flat, push it through the fish so the point protrudes through the belly. Now slice all the way down to the tail, keeping your knife flat against the spine.
Next, grasp the top part of the slab you've created and use your knife to slice it free of the ribs, following the curve of the rib cage, until the slab comes free of the fish.
Repeat on the other side of the fish so you're left with two slabs of fish with the skin on.
Lay one slab on the board with the skin side down. Hold an edge of the skin with your fingertips at the small (tail) end and slide the knife edge between skin and flesh. Keeping the blade pressed flat, use a sawing motion to slice down to the wide end, freeing the skin from the flesh. If your fillet knife isn't flexible enough for this work, move the fillet to the edge of the board or the table to provide room for your hand. Now feel the wide edge of the fillet with your fingertips for small bones. If they're present, cut a little triangle out of the wide end to remove them. Repeat with other slab.
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