Whether we’re talking about a T-bone steak, a fast-food hamburger, or a fish filet, somebody somewhere worked at removing that piece of protein from a critter. The T-bone and the hamburger are largely the results of modern butchering methods geared toward ease of operation in a butcher shop. A fish filet is a cut favored by anglers who wish to reduce the number of bones in their dinner.

There’s a reason for everything in this world, and the fish filet’s reason for existing is to make lunch nicer. No, cutting fish into filets does not remove all the bones from the cut. With some species, such as carp, it’s an act of pure futility, but it does work pretty well for most fish species. Here’s a quick rundown on how to get your fish formed into what looks like dinner.

Materials Needed to Filet a Fish

  • A fish
  • A filet knife
  • A flat surface (like a cutting board)

Step one: Get the Fish Ready

So, you’ve decided to eat your catch. Well, the first step on this path will inevitably be to take the dispatched fish out of the bucket or cooler.  If you’re uncertain how to dispatch a fish, the best way is by bludgeoning. This can be achieved, by giving the fish a good solid bop on the head as a quick way to get it done. Some folks keep a stick around specifically for this, but any heavy instrument will do. Once your trout or walleye has stopped wiggling, set it on your workstation or countertop and continue.

Step Two: Viscera

At any rate, you will want to let the internal organs out of the fish now. Don’t worry, a trout isn’t a bull moose. This will not be that bad. Use your fillet knife to pierce the skin on the bottom of the fish and somewhere just behind the gill slits. Slit the belly of the fish open, guiding the knife along the bottom of the fish, ending around the anal fin. It’s important to note that the filets are not being removed in this step, but the inedible parts of the fish. Most of what you want out of the fish will fall out. Although, a little gentle pulling of the organs will do the rest. That’s it, no muss or fuss, and you’ll be left with a fish that has an empty cavity in its belly.

Step Three: Scaling

Free A Person Cleaning a Raw Fish on the Cutting Board Stock Photo

Image Credit: Kampus Production via Pexels

With your average freshwater fish, the best way to scale is to simply run your filet knife against the grain of the scales on each side of the fish. Thus, they will become detached from the fish’s skin. The liberal use of water to wash the scales away as they are removed is recommended. Excessive water, on the filet meat, may turn it to mush; so less is more. There are countless gizmos on the market for scaling fish, but for some, a knife just might work better. While you’re scaling, don’t forget to chop off the forward fins. You can leave them on, but the filets may look funny.

Step Four: Remove the Filets

Okay, there is a filet on each side of the fish, and you want both of them. Lay the fish on one side and make an incision behind the gill slit. From the top of that incision run, the filet knife back and forth, tracing the backbone of the fish. When you make it to the tail, return to where you started and more or less peel the filet with you as you go.

It’s usually best to start at the back of the fish and work your way down to the belly, letting the filet knife ride on the outside of the ribs. This maximizes the size of the filet on smaller fish. When you have the filet completely removed, flip the fish over and repeat the process on the other side. Some folks like to remove the skin from filets, others like to leave it on. It’s your call.

Fillets For Everyone

As you filet more fish and serve more fish to your friends, you may discover that the most important aspect of the fileting process is consistency. As in the case of the previously mentioned T-bone or hamburger, people expect their food to look a certain way. The more consistently you cut your filets, the more likely your guests will be to enjoy them. As time goes by, you will also learn the tricks to more thoroughly remove the majority of bones from the particular fish species in your area.