From Catch to Plate: How to Fillet a Fish Like a Pro

How to Fillet Fish

To fillet a fish you gotta have skill. If you scroll on Instagram and Facebook, you’ll see beautiful fillets of fish glistening on seafood lovers’ plates. But how do they get it so perfect? It’s all in the technique! With a sharp knife and a few simple steps, you can be filleting like a pro in no time. In this article, we’ll go through the basics of filleting a fish, providing tips and tricks to make the process easier.

Filleted fish with Lemon Slices

Benefits of Filleting Fish

Filleting fish is a technique that not only improves the taste and texture of your meal but also offers a range of practical benefits. As Waitrose notes, filleting your fish reduces cooking time, makes portioning and eating easier, and is especially useful for bigger, meatier varieties that don’t easily fall apart. With this method, you can enjoy your fish over several meals and maximize its nutritional value. Learn how to fillet like a pro with our step-by-step guide.

Choose your Fish Wisely

Are you getting your fish from a local market? Or are you out there catching your own? Either way, you want to make sure that the fish is fresh and in good condition.

If you’re catching fish yourself:

  • Research the type of fish in your local area and only keep what is sustainable and legal.
  • Research and follow local regulations for fishing, including catch limits, size limits, and seasonal restrictions.
  • Handle the fish carefully to ensure it stays fresh and doesn’t spoil during transport.

If you’re buying fish from the grocery store:

  • If you’re buying fish from a supermarket or fish market, look for signs of freshness, such as clear eyes, bright red gills, and a clean smell. Don’t be afraid to ask the fishmonger when the fish was caught and where it came from.
  • Ask for recommendations from the fishmonger based on your preferences and how you plan to prepare the fish. Different fish have different flavor profiles and textures that may be better suited to certain cooking methods or dishes.
  • Check for certifications or labels indicating it was sustainably caught or farmed.
A row of knives

Choose Your Knife Wisely

Now that you’ve got your fish, it’s time to pick a knife. If you don’t already have one, you might need to invest in a filleting knife, but it’s worth the money. Do you ever wonder how sushi chefs make such perfect, thin slices of tuna and salmon? They use a special type of knife called a yanagi ba. It has a long, thin blade designed specifically for filleting fish.

Whether you’re using a yanagi ba or a regular kitchen knife, here are some tips for choosing the right blade:

  • Choose the right size: A fillet knife should be long enough to handle the size of the fish you’re filleting. A 6-7 inch knife is perfect for most fish, while larger fish might require a 9-10 inch knife.
  • Consider the blade flexibility: A flexible blade allows you to maneuver around bones and get into tight spaces more easily. However, a stiffer blade is better for larger fish and tougher skin.
  • Look for quality materials: A high-quality blade made of stainless steel or high-carbon steel will hold its edge longer and resist rust and corrosion.
  • Consider the handle: Look for a comfortable grip that will allow you to maintain control even if your hands are wet or slippery. A rubber or textured grip can help prevent slipping.
  • Keep your knife sharp: A dull knife can be dangerous and complicate filleting. Invest in a good sharpener or take your knife to a professional to maintain a sharp edge.

Other Tools Needed

While a sharp knife is the most essential tool for filleting fish, a few other items can make the process smoother, more enjoyable, and safer. Here are a few items to consider adding to your toolkit:

  • A cutting board: A sturdy and stable cutting board is crucial for safely filleting a fish. A plastic or wooden cutting board will work, but make sure it has a non-slip bottom or a grip to keep it from moving around.
  • A scaler: If you’re catching your own fish, a scaler will make removing the scales from the skin easier. A scaler can also be helpful when cleaning fish you’ve purchased from the supermarket.
  • Pliers or fish pliers: These can be used to grip the fish and help remove the bones. Fish pliers are a specialized tool designed specifically for removing bones and can be helpful if you’re filleting fish frequently.
  • A sharpener: A sharp knife is essential for filleting fish. Make sure you have a knife sharpener on hand to keep your blade sharp and ready for use.
  • Gloves: Filleting a fish can be messy, and gloves can help protect your hands from cuts and scales. Look for gloves made of cut-resistant material that are also waterproof.
  • A container or bag: Have a container or bag nearby to place the discarded parts of the fish, such as the head, tail, and bones. This will help keep your workspace clean and organized.
Fish and vegetables

The Fish Filleting Process

Skin or no skin? That is the question! If you plan on cooking your fish with the skin on, remove any scales with a scaler before filleting. Be sure not to bruise or pierce the fish while scaling. Bruised fish will have an unpleasant smell and taste.

1. Start Cutting

Once you’ve made your decision, it’s time to start cutting. With your knife in hand, make sure you have a good surface to work on – like a cutting board or plate. Lay the fish flat on the surface with its head pointing away from you, then start slicing from behind the head along one side of the backbone. Continue to cut down, using a sawing motion, until you reach the tail.

2. Repeat on the Other Side

Flip the fish over and repeat these steps along the other side of its body. The two fillets should be connected at their tail end. You can remove the bone by cutting around it. This is your opportunity to feel for any remaining bones and remove them.

3. Remove the Skin

If you wish to remove the skin, hold one fillet in your hand with the skin side down and start slicing at a shallow angle along its length. Push back against the knife as you cut through – this will allow the blade to ‘ride’ above the skin while still cutting it off. Move your way up the fillet, and you should be left with two delicious skinless fillets.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Even the most experienced anglers can fall victim to these common mistakes when filleting a fish, but with some awareness and preparation, you can avoid them and achieve perfectly filleted fish every time.

  • Rushing: Taking your time and patience when filleting a fish is essential. Rushing can lead to uneven cuts, injuries, and a poorly filleted fish.
  • Using a dull knife: A dull knife can be dangerous and make filleting a fish more difficult. Always make sure your knife is sharp before starting.
  • Removing too much meat: Be careful not to remove too much meat when filleting a fish. This can be wasteful and result in a smaller yield.
  • Not removing all the bones: It’s important to remove all the bones when filleting a fish. Leaving even a few bones can be unpleasant for your guests and potentially dangerous.
  • Not keeping the fish cold: Make sure the fish stays cold while filleting to prevent bacteria growth and to keep the meat fresh.
  • Not washing hands and tools: Proper hygiene is essential when handling raw fish. Wash your hands, tools, and surfaces thoroughly before, during, and after filleting.
Fish on a Himalayan salt block

Cooking your Fish Fillet

Let’s look to one of the world’s most renowned chefs, Gordon Ramsay, for inspiration when cooking your fish fillet. Gordon Ramsay said, “I cook my salmon 95% on the skin, and then two minutes before I serve it, I sear it on top, so it’s pink,” he says. “We don’t go for a well-done salmon.” Overcooking will produce a dry, tough, and flavorless fish that nobody wants. So keep a close eye on your fillet, and don’t be afraid to use a meat thermometer to ensure it’s cooked to perfection.

  • Over the Fire: If you’re cooking over an open fire, use a grill grate or foil to prevent the fish from sticking to the grates. Coat the fish with oil or butter, and season it with salt and pepper. Cook the fish for a few minutes on each side until it’s cooked through and flaky.
  • Himalayan Salt Block: Preheat your salt block slowly and gradually, and make sure it’s completely heated before you start cooking. Once it’s hot, place your fish on the block and cook it for a few minutes on each side until it’s done to your liking. You can also add herbs or citrus to the salt block for extra flavor.
  • Air Fryer: Preheat your air fryer, place your fish in the basket, and lightly spray it with a marinade. Cook the fish for about 8-10 minutes on air roast, flipping it halfway through until it’s crispy and cooked. Before cooking, you can also season the fish with your favorite herbs and spices.
  • BBQ Grill: Preheat your grill to medium-high heat, and lightly oil the grates to prevent the fish from sticking. Season the fish with your favorite spices, and grill it for a few minutes on each side until it’s cooked through. You can also use a fish basket or grill mat to prevent the fish from falling apart on the grill.

No matter how you cook your fish fillet, the most important thing is to make sure it’s cooked to perfection. With these tips and tricks, you can ensure every fillet is a delicious success. Bon appétit!

Fish slices


Q: What do I need to fillet a fish?
A: To fillet a fish, you will need a sharp knife, a sturdy cutting board, a scaler, pliers, a sharpener, gloves, and a container or bag to place the discarded parts of the fish.

Q: What should I consider when choosing a filleting knife?
A: You should consider the size of the knife, the blade flexibility, the quality of materials, the handle, and keeping the knife sharp.

Q: How can I tell if a fish is fresh?
A: Signs of a fresh fish include clear eyes, bright red gills, and a clean smell. When purchasing from a store, ask the fishmonger when it was caught and where it came from.

Q: Should I remove the scales before filleting a fish?
A: If you plan to cook the fish with the skin on, it’s best to remove the scales with a scaler before filleting to prevent bruising or piercing the fish. Otherwise, it’s optional.

Q: What other tools can make the process of filleting fish easier?
A: Other tools that can make the process of filleting fish easier include a scaler, pliers or fish pliers, gloves, a sharpener, and a container or bag to place the discarded parts of the fish.

Q: How should I handle a fish when catching it?
A: When catching a fish, research the type of fish in your local area and only keep what is sustainable and legal. Follow local regulations for fishing, and handle the fish carefully to ensure it stays fresh and doesn’t spoil during transport.

Q: How do I remove the skin from a fillet?
A: Hold one fillet in your hand with the skin side down and start slicing at a shallow angle along its length. Push back against the knife while pulling the skin away from the fillet with your other hand.

Q: Should I remove the bones from the fillet?
A: It’s recommended to feel for any remaining bones and remove them from the fillet. This ensures a smooth eating experience and reduces the risk of choking.

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