How to Clean a Fish - How to Fillet a 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 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. A striped bass. And 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.

Fresh Fish Is Best

king salmon on ice fresh fishFresh King Salmon On Ice

The best thing is to ensure that your catch remains as fresh as possible.

Keep the fish alive in the water on a stringer, in a basket, or iced down in a cooler. A dead fish, even in the water, spoils rapidly. Therefore, it's important to keep them cold. Wrapping them in a damp cloth or cheese cloth will also help. Live wells in boats are also another excellent way to keep fish alive.

It's best to clean a fish within the first hour or two, and cook it within 24 hours.

If you are not going to cook it right away, then freezing the fish should be done at once, but preferably after it has been prepared for cooking. Once you plan to use it for cooking, begin thawing the fish gradually in the refrigerator overnight or under cold running water. Do not refreeze the fish after it has been thawed.

Quick Preparation Tips For Cleaning Fish

Here are a couple quick tips before we begin to go over these easy methods and techniques about filleting fish and how to clean a fish.

You can use the flesh remains from the bones and the head as a stock for the base of soups, sauces, and chowders. So, consider saving them for later.

You may want to place newspapers under your work area to manage an easy clean up.

Use water sparingly on fish because it tends to firm up the fish.

Fish Cleaning and Fish Fillet Tools

fillet knives and sharpeners to clean and fillet fish

Having the right tools for the job will definitely make any job a lot easier. You finish much quicker and with less of a mess.

You can still get by with what you have in your kitchen, but here are a couple things that will help you more efficiently clean a fish and fillet a fish.

Choose a fillet knife that fits the size of the fish. Short fillet knives tend to be firmer, as longer fillet knives are more flexible.

It's important to keep your blades sharp for superb quality cuts. You can use a honing stone or a sharpening steel to do so.

An electric fillet knife can also be used, however, I personally prefer to use a regular fillet knife. I find it easier to feel my way through the fish and its bone structure.

This Shakespeare Six Piece Fish Fillet Knife Setfillet knife has all the essentials that you need.

How to Clean a Fish - Field Dressing

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"fish scaler would make a nice addtion for making your fish cleaning tasks much easier.

Remove the gills, guts and kidney as soon as possible because these spoil fast in a dead fish. This is not 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. Insert the knife blade in the belly and run it up to the gills. Pull the guts and the gills out. Cut the membrane along the backbone. Scrape out the kidney and bloodline from underneath the membrane.

How to Fillet a Fish - The Basic Method

It's best to use a sharp fillet knife in which the length of the blade fits the fish. Behind the pectoral fin, cut through to the backbone. Turn the blade parallel to the backbone and cut towards the tail. When doing this, try not to cut too deeply as to puncture the belly cavity. This will just make the job a bit messier. Then cut off the rib bones.

Turn the fish over and repeat for the second fillet. Then cut off the strips of fatty belly flesh. You can skin the fillet by cutting into the tail end flesh to the skin, and run your knife through while holding the skin firmly.

How to Fillet and Clean Panfish

cleaning panfish fillet a fish freshwater

Panfish are generally too small to fillet for the less experienced, therefore it may be more ideal to pan dress them instead. Both methods are quite easy once you get the hang of practicing with a few sunfish.

To begin pan dressing, start by scaling the fish.

Then slice along both sides of the dorsal fin and pull out the fin. Cut along both sides of the anal fin and remove it by pulling it towards the tail. Cut off the head. Split the belly and remove the guts. The tail is quite tasty so it's up to you if you want to cut it off.

That's it. Simply rinse it quickly with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.

Preparing Fish 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 larger fish you may need to use a saw or a cleaver to get through the spine. Cut the steaks, using the same method and angle you used to cut off the head, to your desired thickness.

Cleaning Catfish and Bullheads

Catfish don't have scales and require slightly different techniques for cleaning. Go here to find out how to clean a catfish by skinning them first. This method explains how to skin and dress catfish and bullheads. Or go here to find out how to clean catfish by filleting them with the skin on.

Fish Cleaning Videos

This video shows how to fillet a striped bass. He refers to the striper as a "rockfish." Rockfish are sometimes referred to striped bass, rock salmon, sebastidae, the New Zealand rockfish, or stonefish.

Understanding how to clean a fish properly can be essential to your health. It's important to practice and maintain these good habits to prevent one from becoming ill. Once a fish dies, it immediately begins to deteriorate rapidly, which is why it's best to keep the fish cold, and even better, to clean a fish before icing it down. A clean fish is a healthy fish is a good tasting fish is a healthy you. Cheers!


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How To Clean and Fillet Fish


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