Proper fish processing techniques are essential for anglers and seafood chefs. Novices typically get caught up on the “do’s” when filleting fish for the first time. However, equally important are the “don’ts”. In this article, I run through my top 7 list of what NOT to do when preparing fish for the table.
1. Don’t Stress the Fish
Don’t let a fish die on its own after catching it. If the fish thrashes around, the meat will be bruised, stressed, will change texture, and can cause the meat to taste fishy. It is also much more humane to kill a fish quickly. My preferred method is to place the fish in a cooler of ice immediately after catching and allow it to go dormant. When filleting your next catch, you’ll realize how much easier it is to dissect.
2. Don’t use a Dull Fillet Knife
Sharp knives require much less pressure when cutting into fish meat, which reduces the tendency to slip and allows for greater control over the blade. A dull knife also tends to produce more jagged fillets as you saw through the meat. It’s better to make clean, seamless cuts when filleting fish. Bottom line, cutting with a sharp knife is much more controlled. Sharp blades combined with proper cutting techniques will significantly reduce chances of injury and produce cleaner fillets.
I recently purchased this Dalstrong knife and love the sharp edge and heavy weight of the handle.
3. Don’t Forget to Gut the Fish
Don’t let intestinal contaminants remain in the fish too long. Fish guts deteriorate quickly and can spoil the fish if not processed correctly. Gut the fish as soon as practical after catching it and wash the cavity in cold water to remove bacteria. Afterwards, surround the fish inside and out with crushed ice to retard any bacterial growth.
4. Don’t Forget to Watch Your Fingers
Don’t scale a fish without paying attention to your fingers. Scaling a fish is typically performed in reverse order of how the scales grow on the fish, and this motion can direct your fingers in into the dangerously sharp dorsal fin. Impact with a fish fin can cause serious puncture wounds and the point can potentially break off inside of your fingers. Pay extra attention to where your fingers are and keep them away from fins when scaling fish. Be mindful of your fingers when you’re filleting your fish, too.
You purchase fillet gloves like these to keep those precious fingers safe.
5. Don’t Stick your fingers in the Fish Mouth or Gills
Perhaps this is common sense to most, but many of you reading this may have already made this common mistake while catching and filleting fish. Most fish have very sharp teeth. Several also have teeth in their gills. Either of the sharp places can catch your fingers and will not easily let go.
6. Don’t Forget to Chill
Don’t process fish without quickly cooling the fillets to 35-40°F. It’s very important to ice fish all throughout the filleting process, but it is especially important to do so after a fish is cleaned. If you are storing fish in an ice cooler while filleting fish, it is also important to leave the cooler’s drain plug open so ice water will run out. You do not want the fillets to sit in standing water as it will make them soggy and soft.
7. Don’t Forget to Clean Up
Don’t walk away from the fillet table without cleaning it. Finish the job. Rotting fish is horribly smelly. It also grows bacteria, and attracts flies and unwanted animals. After you are done filleting and cleaning your fish, clean your fillet table immediately and use soap or bleach if possible to properly disinfect and make ready for the next catch.
Enjoy The Fish Filleting Process
While filleting fish is the highlight of my fishing experience, most love to catch the fish but are unsure of how to properly clean the fish. Hopefully these tips will make your next fish filleting experience safe, simple perhaps even enjoyable. Happy filleting!
Also make sure to visit our YouTube Channel for fillet demos: