How to Fillet a Fish

When you know how to fillet a fish, the door opens to many wonderful culinary and taste adventures. Follow these simple steps, and soon you’ll be filleting fish like a seasoned angler.

Filleting 101

Whole fish are usually cheaper than prepared fish, so you’ll save on the grocery budget too. Filleting may look complicated at first, but it’s actually quite easy and straightforward. You just need the right tools and a bit of hands-on practice.

Task Overview

Estimated time: 10 min
Estimated cost: $80
Skill level: Beginner
Number of people required: 1

Tools & Materials:

Filleting Your Fish

  1. Remove the fins
    To start, slip on your fillet gloves or a similar pair that offers protection from cuts and scratches. Place the fish on the cutting board. Next, using the scissors, snip off the fins located on either side of the head and along the top and stomach of the fish.
     
  2. Cut open the stomach
    Place the fish on its side on the cutting board with the stomach facing you. Look for a hole about a quarter of the distance from the tail to the head. Using the tip of the fillet knife, pierce the stomach at the hole. Then run the knife to the head of the fish, slicing open the stomach.
     
  3. Empty the stomach contents
    Clean out the contents of the stomach cavity and use cold running water to rinse the fish.
     
  4. Leave the head on
    Some anglers remove the head first, but leaving it on gives you something to hold on to while filleting.
     
  5. Slice off the fillet from one side of the fish
    With the fish on its side, tail toward you, use your fillet knife to make an incision along the spine where the head used to be. The incision should be just above the spine. Next, slice your fillet knife gently to the tail. You may need to repeat this action a few times. If necessary, lift the fillet to get a better view. In time, you'll reach the rib bones. As you slice over the bones, allow the knife to follow the natural curve of the bones. Don’t separate the fillet entirely, you can use it for leverage when filleting the other side.
     
  6. Slice off the other fillet
    Turn over the fish with its tail away from you. You're going to repeat the process you used to slice off the first fillet. Take extra care with the knife: removing the second fillet is a bit trickier with the other side of the fish mostly separated. Using your fillet knife, make an incision along the spine at the head of the fish. Then slice your fillet knife gently to the tail. Continue until the fillet separates from the rest of the spine.
     
  7. Skin the filets
    Lay the fillet on your cutting board with the tail facing you, meat side up. Slice gently between the meat and the skin, then tilt the knife so the blade is roughly 70-80 degrees to the skin. Hold the skin, and wiggle and pull it away (keeping the knife in place). The skin will peel away from the meat. Repeat with your other fillet.
     
  8. Debone the fillets
    Gently stroke the fish with your knife to reveal the position and lay of the fine bones. Follow this line, cutting completely through to separate the top part of the fillet. The line of fine bones stops about two thirds of the way down the fillet. Now put the knife on the other side of the line of bones and run it up the fillet. Separate the two and reinsert the knife at an angle suitable to cut the flesh from the underside of the gut bones. Follow close to the fish bones to recover as much meat as possible. Your fillet is now deboned. You can use the bony section along with the fish heads and back bones for making fish stock.
 
 

Useful Tips & Notes:

  • Fish scales, gills, fins, tails and teeth can be very sharp: use fillet gloves or a similarly protective pair
  • Fish can also be slippery: it's a good idea to rinse your fish in cold water and pat dry before beginning
  • If you don't have a fillet knife, make sure the knife you use has a blade that's long, flexible and sharp
  • Filleting fish is messy so position your cutting board near a sink and keep an old newspaper handy for wrapping and disposing of the waste parts
  • Fish parts can have a strong odour: you may want to wrap and store them in the freezer until disposal
Legal
This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.

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