How To: Clean and Fillet a Fish

Here are some tips and tricks for cleaning and filleting your fresh catch.

How to Clean a Fish

1. Rest the fish on the table or cutting board. Insert the knife tip into the fish’s belly near the cloaca and move the blade up along the belly, cutting to the head.
2. Keep the knife blade shallow so you don’t puncture the intestines.
3. Spread the body open and remove all of the entrails. Locate the fish’s cloaca and cut this out in a “V” or notch shape.
4. Some fish have a kidney by the backbone. Remove it by scraping it out with a spoon or your thumbnail.
5. Rinse the cavity out with a good stream of water and wash the skin. Some fish have a dark tissue lining the abdominal cavity that can be scraped off to prevent a strong, oily flavor.
6. Remove the head if you like.
7. Clean your fish-cleaning table immediately. Collect the guts, heads, and scales, and discard them properly.
8. Your clean fish is now ready to be cooked.

How to Fillet a Fish

1. Lay it on its side on a flat surface. Unlike the cut described for preparing whole fish, filleting fish requires you to cut the fish behind its gills and pectoral fin, but only to the rib cage. Neither scaling nor removing the head is necessary.
2. If not removing the head, turn the blade toward the tail and cut along the top of the ribs using the fish’s backbone to guide you. Turn the fish over and repeat steps 2 and 3.
3. Next, insert the knife blade close to the rib bones and slice the entire rib section of each fillet away. Then, with the skin side down, insert the knife blade about a 1/2 inch from the tail. Gripping this tail part firmly, put the blade between the skin and the meat at an angle. Using a little pressure and a sawing motion, cut against — not through — the skin. The fillet will be removed from the skin.
4. Wash each fillet in cold water. Pat dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. The fillets are ready to cook or freeze.

How to Select Fresh Fish at the Market

1. Check the smell. It should smell fresh and briny — like the ocean.
2. Make sure the eyes are full and bright. If they are milky or cloudy it means the fish has been sitting too long.
3. The fish’s gills should be bright and red. Slimy or dull gills are another sign that the fish isn’t as fresh as it should be.
4. Finally, touch the fish. It should spring right back.

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