Test Kitchen tips: Filleting a fish

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I’d rank filleting a fish right up there with learning how to slice a holiday turkey, or baking a beautiful three-layer cake. There’s nothing like the satisfaction to be had when you finally get it right.

Filleting a fish is not hard, but it’s one of those kitchen techniques that does take some practice. Follow the steps after the jump for a quick tutorial, then try your hand at it. You may mess up the first few times, but don’t worry, with a little time and some patience you’ll get the hang of it! And check out these tips for choosing fresh fish.


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1. To fillet a fish, use a fillet knife specially designed for fish. It will have a thinner blade which is flexible, and the handle should have a good grip (fish can be slippery when you’re filleting; you do not want the knife to slip).
2. Lay a cleaned (gutted) fish on its side with the back facing towards you.

3. Cut into the fish behind the head, down to (but not through) the backbone.

4. With the blade still in the fish, rotate the knife so the point of the blade faces the the tail to begin slicing the fillet.

5. With long, smooth strokes, slice the fillet, keeping the blade flat against backbone to separate the fillet from the fish. Remember that the fewer cuts you make, the cleaner the fillet will be.

6. Finally, cut the fillet away from the fish.

7. Repeat on the other side of the fish to remove the second fillet.

8. If desired, use a spoon to scrape any leftover meat off the bones after the fish is filleted.

9. To remove the skin, lay the fillet, skin-side down, on the work surface. Hold the end of the tail with your fingers and carefully slide the blade into the tail, through the flesh, and down to -- but not through -- the skin. If you have trouble grasping the skin, use a kitchen towel for a more secure grip. With the flat blade angled just slightly downward towards the skin, move the knife away from you in smooth strokes, sliding it against the skin and through the fillet.
10. Feel along the fillet, using a pair of fish tweezers or pliers to remove any bones. Trim and slice the fillet as desired before cooking.