How to fillet fish - Including how to cut fillets or steaks.

how to fillet fish
A fish fillet is a piece of fish that has been cut from the body that does not contain any bones. Some people who can be a bit fussy about dealing with uncooked fish, prefer cooking and eating fillets since they do not have to mess about with fish guts, blood or bones.

Your fishmonger will be more than happy to divide your whole fish into fillets for you. However, if you want to give it a go yourself, follow the guidelines below.

You will need a clean board to work on, a good, sharp knife with a thin and slightly flexible blade and a bin nearby.

If you decide to keep the bones, skin and all of the trimmings, you will be able to make a delicious homemade fish stock afterwards, which you could use as the base of a bouillabaisse or a fish or seafood stew, soup or casserole.

Depending on the type and size of your fish, filleting can be carried out in a number of ways. Two fillets can be removed from a round fish or a small flat fish, whilst, four (two from each side) can be taken from a large flat fish. Flat fish are generally easier to fillet due to the simple bone structure and they are usually too thin to cut into cutlets or steaks.
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To fillet round fish

Round fish include the majority of species, such as bass, salmon, trout, etc.
  1. Lay the fish flat on a board and on its side.
  2. Hold the head down with one hand and with the other hand, cut the head off completely using a sharp knife, making the clean cut just behind the gills. The insides should come away with the head.
  3. With the tip of the knife, cut down the length of the fish, just through the skin and along the backbone. Begin at the top, where the head used to be and cut along towards the tail.
  4. Next, cut along the other side of the same fillet. Use short strokes and gently pull the flesh away from the bones at the same time. You will need to hold the knife almost parallel to the fish.
  5. On reaching the tail of the fish, cut across to release the fillet. It should come away in one piece. Check for any stray bones that shouldn't be there.
  6. Turn the fish over and repeat the same procedure on the other side.
  7. The skin can be removed after filleting the fish, depending on which cooking methods you are using.

To fillet a large flat fish

  1. Lay the fish flat on a clean board.
  2. Make a small curved cut just behind the head of the fish but not too deep.
  3. Outline the shape of the fillets with the tip of a sharp knife by slitting the skin along the sides of the fish where the fin and rib bones join.
  4. Cut a slit across the tail.
  5. Take the knife and cut straight down the middle of the fish, along the backbone, from the head to the tail.
  6. Starting at the head end, cut away one fillet from the rib bones at one side. Take care and hold the knife almost flat along the bone. Cut away in small strokes.
  7. Rotate the fish around and cut the second fillet in the same way.
  8. Turn the fish over and cut two more fillets off from the other side by using the same method.

How to fillet small flat fish

With a smaller species of flat fish, you will only be able to obtain one fillet from each side of the fish instead of two.
  1. Make a curved cut behind the head as above.
  2. Also cut down both sides of the fish but not down the middle.
  3. Start at the head end and cut the flesh carefully away from the rib bones until you get to the centre.
  4. Rotate the fish and do the same but starting from the bottom, until you cut away the whole fillet.
  5. Turn the fish onto its other side and repeat the same in order to cut away the second fillet.
  6. Remember to remove the dark skin from flat fish before cooking.

How to cut fish steaks or cutlets

This is a very simple procedure that involves little work and no blood or gore!

Round fish and certain types of large flat fish may be cut into steaks or cutlets instead of fillets.

Generally, you cut steaks from the tail end of the fish, whilst cutlets are taken from the centre and they are usually cut to a thickness of about 2 inches or slightly less.
  1. Place the piece of fish onto a clean chopping board.
  2. Using a heavy-duty, large, sturdy knife cut the fish across, at a right-angle to the backbone. You may need to use scissors to cut through the backbone.
  3. Cook as required.
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