How To Clean Fish

I remember the first time that I learned how to clean a fish. I was just a young boy. My uncle took my brothers and I out to the California Delta to go swimming one hot summer day, and we ended up fishing as well.

Of all the fish that we caught that day, we took just one fish back home with us. It was a striped bass.

Since I suggested that we keep it, I inherited the duty of cleaning it. It seemed like forever. What a mess. Scales and guts everywhere.

But I got it done and turned it over to my uncle to cook it. He simply coated the pieces of fillets with a flour mixture and pan fried them in butter. It was delicious! And it was certainly well worth the time and mess I made.

With more and more practice and experience I have gained over the years, I've managed to keep the mess and time down to a minimum. The following techniques provided here should help you in the same way as well.

Organized way of cleaning fish without much of a mess.Homemade fish cleaning station, organized to minimize mess.

Field Dressing - The Basic Fish Cleaning Method

The dorsal fin is prickly and can poke you if you're not careful. I've been nipped a couple of times by them and it's not too thrilling. Use a pair of kitchen scissors (also referred to as kitchen shears) to cut off all of their fins.

Use a quality fish scaler to scale fish that have large scales in which you are planning on cooking with their skin on. Some fish with large scales include black bass, striped bass, bluegills, crappies, walleyes, northern pike, and salmon.

This Paderno World Cuisine Fish Scaler, Stainless Steel Blade & Handle, 8 5/8" would make a nice addition for making your fish cleaning tasks much easier.

If you don't have a scaler, then you can also settle for raking a knife or even a spoon across the scales to remove them. However you see fit is up to you.

Removing The Entrails (A.K.A. the Fish Guts)

Remove the gills, guts and kidney as soon as possible because these spoil fast in a dead fish. Removing their entrails is not absolutely necessary if you are going to fillet the fish within an hour or two.

You can remove the gills by cutting the throat connection and along both sides so that the gills pull out easily.

  1. Insert the knife blade in the belly and run it up to the gills.
  2. Pull the guts and the gills out.
  3. Cut the membrane along the backbone.
  4. Scrape out the kidney and bloodline from underneath the membrane.

Preparing Fish Steaks

Now that you've completely prepped and cleaned your fish, you have some options with how you may want to cook it. You can leave it whole, cut and dice it up, or slice up some nice steaks.

Scale fish that have large scales. Remove the guts, bloodline, and dorsal fin. Remove the head by slicing through behind the gills using a sharp fillet knife. With much larger fish you may need to use a saw or a cleaver to get through the spine.

Chinook Salmon sliced up into steaks.Chinook Salmon cleaned and sliced up into steaks.

Cut the steaks, using the same method and angle you used to cut off the head, to your desired thickness.

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