How to Fillet a Fish

Home chefs often turn to pre-portioned fish from the local market or grocery store. The convenience is a perk, but the freshness often lacks. A few simple tricks and some easy-to-follow instructions will have you preparing fish straight out of the water. Grab your sharpest fillet knife, take a deep breath, and prepare to master this major culinary feat.

The First Few Steps are the Hardest (and Most Important) to Achieve

  1. Rinse your whole fish under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Place it on a cutting board with the end facing you. Lightly press the blade of a sharp knife between the side fin and gill, cutting straight down until you reach the backbone.

  1. With the knife parallel to the cutting board (90-degree angle from your first cut), cut along the backbone from head to tail. This slice removes the belly flap. Apply steady pressure to finalize your cut and break through the rib bones, steadying the top of the fish with your other hand.

  1. Finish your cut by running the knife all the way through the skin on the tail. Repeat these steps on the other side of your fish.

  1. It’s time to clean your fish. Properly remove the belly flap and rib bones by running your knife under the top of the ribs toward the base of the filet at a slight angle. Lastly, check for tiny pin bones. Some species have nearly microscopic bones that line the midline of the fillet. Run your fingers along the fillet to spot the bones, then use a pair of needle-nose pliers to pluck.

Other Steps to Consider Before You Cook

Skinning isn’t necessary: This one is totally up to personal preference. If you choose to do so, we’re here to walk you through it. Place the fillet on your cutting board, skin-side down. Hold the knife parallel to the cutting board and slice as close to the skin as possible. Use a soft sawing motion and simultaneously pull the tail in the opposite direction.

Proper storage is key: Fish goes bad very quickly. Have you ever noticed the abundance of ice underneath fresh fish in the markets or at Julington Creek? Mirror this method even in your own home.

If you plan to use your fresh catch in the next day or two, the refrigerator plus ice is your best bet. Consider investing in a cooling rack (ice goes on the bottom and the fish sits atop on an elevated, perforated rack). Place crushed ice in the base of the container with clean fish neatly placed on the rack. Cover with plastic wrap and tightly seal. Replace the ice daily as it melts.

The freezer is a good option if you have pounds of fish you want to preserve. Rinse and dry your fish, then place flat in freezer-safe bags. Date and label your bags, and aim to use the fish within two weeks.

Visit Julington Creek Fish Camp to Experience Fresh, Local Seafood

Want to experience freshly caught fish without all of the work? We get it. Stop by Julington Creek Fish Camp for our catch of the day and other local favorites.

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