Most of the fishing seasons are in full swing, and among the pleasures of fishing is preparing your catch for the dinner table. Fish is an excellent food as it’s high in nutrition and low in fat. You can make the most of your catch, whether it’s a fresh water or saltwater fish, by filleting them properly. Filleting a fish is as much fun as catching them, but it can be easier.
When you use a razor-sharp knife, and with a little practice, filleting a fish takes less than a minute per fish. Fish will taste better and fillet easily if you keep them cool from the start. When you decide to keep a fish, kill it immediately and put it on ice. Stringers and creels are all right as long as the fish stays cool, but stringing fish in warm pond water or creeling them on a warm day makes the meat deteriorate quickly and ruins the natural, delicate flavor.
When you get home, fillet cooled fish immediately. If you haven’t iced the catch, put it in the refrigerator for an hour or two until the flesh feels slightly firm to the touch. Make sure you use a razorsharp fillet knife so it’s up to the job – a sharp knife is safer and makes fish cleaning a snap. Don’t waste time scaling a fish – it’s a messy and unnecessary step unless you plan to cook the fish with the skin on. Also, don’t worry about gutting the fish.
If you don’t plan to eat the skin, begin filleting the fish immediately. To fillet a fish, four cuts are necessary; two to remove the fillets and two to remove the skin. Instead of thinking of the process as cutting, imagine it as “shaving “.
To obtain the greatest amount of meat from a fish, use a firm but light “shaving” stroke. Keep the blade at an angle and allow it to slide over the bones. Let’s use one of America’s tastiest panfish, the perch, as an example, although the same procedure applies to most species.
Start the first cut on a diagonal from the top and back of the head, behind the pectoral fin to just above the stomach cavity (you can feel the stomach cavity with your hand before cutting).
With the blade angled as for shaving, continue the stroke toward the tail. By keeping the blade on an angle and shaving the flesh away, you can feel the spine and the ribs and avoid cutting into them. As the blade approaches the dorsal (back) fin, guide it around the fin side nearest you, avoid the fin rays that extend into the fish’s body.
As you pass the rear of the stomach cavity, allow the knife to cut lower into the fish. The knife’s tip should penetrate the bottom of the fish. Don’t worry if you cut into the stomach cavity slightly, because you can trim it off later.
Continue the shaving motion all the way to the tail to remove your first fillet. Put the fillet aside, flip the fish over and remove the fillet from the other side. When you’ve filleted your fish, it’s time to remove the skin.
To make the job quick, be sure the blade is still sharp. If in doubt, touch it up with a ceramic stick or other honing device. Place the fillet skin side down with the tail end nearest you. It may be a little slippery, so grasp the tail end with a pair of pliers and use a knife with a sure-grip with non-slip handles.
Angle the blade at about 45 degrees with the blade edge touching the inside of the skin. Mave the blade away from you as you shave the flesh off the skin. If necessary, trim off any of the stomach cavity or fins you may have cut into. Then, under icecold running water, wash the fillets and feel for any stray bones. If there are some little bones you usually can pick them out. Thoroughly blot the washed fillets on paper towels and get ready for some wonderful eating!