Properly Filleting a Fish
Fish fillets are boneless and usually skinless. When you visit
the fish shop or counter, you can usually see the gleaming fillets arranged on
ice. But look a little further, and you'll see whole fish, with silvery skin,
bright red gills, and firm, glossy fins and tails.
You can try most of these interesting fish in almost any recipe you already
enjoy for fish.
You may certainly ask the fishmonger to cut your whole fish into fillets. If you
do, be sure to ask for the bones and the head (if it is impeccably fresh) to
make a quick fish broth. Save them in the freezer to add body and flavor to
future fish soups, stews and sauces.
However, you can fillet most fish at home. Familiarizing yourself with the
special tools and techniques for filleting provides an ideal opportunity to
produce the cuts of fish featured on restaurant menus.
You will need a steel, to sharpen your knife before, during and after cutting
the fish; a filleting knife with a slender, thin and often somewhat flexible
blade about 6 inches long; a clean and stable cutting board; and containers to
hold scraps and fillets separately.
The technique described here is appropriate for such round fish as trout,
salmon, bluefish or snapper.
First, lay the fish on a cutting board with its backbone parallel to the work
surface and its head on the same side as your dominant hand.
To remove the head, cut behind the head and gill plates with a filleting knife.
Angle the knife so the cutting motion is down and away from the body.
Without removing the knife, turn it so the cutting edge is pointing toward the
tail of the fish. The knife should be positioned so that the handle is lower
than the tip of the blade to keep the greatest amount of edible flesh with the
Run the blade down the length of the fish, cutting against the backbone and
pulling the fillet up and away from the bones. If you cut evenly and smoothly,
you should actually split the tail. Once the fillet is freed from the bones, lay
it skin side down in a clean pan.
Without turning the fish over, insert the blade just underneath the backbone.
Lay a hand flat on top of the bone structure to keep the fish stable. The knife
must be parallel to the cutting surface as you cut, not angled as when you
removed the first fillet.
Using a smooth cutting motion, run the blade the entire length of the fillet.
The cutting edge should be angled upward very slightly so that you are cutting
against the bone to increase the useable yield on the second fillet. Remove the
belly bones by making smooth strokes against the bones to cut them cleanly away.
To remove the skin, lay the fillet parallel to the edge of your cutting surface,
with the tail to the left if you are right-handed or to the right if you are
left-handed. Hold the tail firmly with your guiding hand, and carefully insert
the knife between the skin and the flesh.
Holding the knife so that the cutting edge is cutting against the skin, pull the
skin taut with your guiding hand as you cut the fish fillet free from the skin.
The motion should be relatively smooth, with a very slight sawing motion.
The pin bones in salmon should be removed at this point. They can be found by
running a fingertip over the fillet. Use pliers or tweezers to pull out the
bones. Pull them out in the direction of the head of the fillet (with the grain)
to avoid ripping the flesh.
Fillets can be enjoyed as delicious sautés with simple pan sauces. They can also
be marinated and grilled, often with the skin left on; baked in a sauce, with a
stuffing, or a coating; gently poached to serve hot or cold; pan-fried with a
crispy coating as either full-size fillets or the finger-size cuts known as
Source: The Culinary Institute of America
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