AskThechef technique filleting

Technique: filleting

Below you can find essential information about the technique of filleting.

Technique: filleting

Equipment required:
– chopping board
– fillet knife
– fish scale scraper
– fish bone tweezers

Filleting fish is the process of removing the fish fillets from the bone. We do this if we cannot or do not want to work with a whole fish. In preparation methods such as poaching and steaming, the skin becomes soft and unpleasant to eat, which is why we remove the skin from the flesh. When filleting fish, we categorise them into flatfish and roundfish. There are similarities between these fish, but the method of filleting is quite different in some respects. 

Step-by-step: filleting a large roundfish

  • Use kitchen shears to cut the fins off the fish.
  • Using a fish scale scraper or the back of an old knife, scrape off the scales of the fish from tail to head. Take care not to damage the skin.
  • With the tip of a fillet knife, cut into the abdominal wall from the tail side. Don’t cut too deep or you will damage the intestines.
  • Remove the intestines from the abdominal cavity with your hand. Rinse the fish under cold running water.
  • Remove the head of the gurnard; cut it just behind the skull diagonally away from the body.
  • Start by cutting into the fish on one side with a fillet knife (not too deeply), from the end where the head was, along the backbone.
  • Closer to the tail, the fillet will become thinner. Insert the fillet knife horizontally along the backbone through the fish. Lay your other hand on top of the fillet and continue to cut the fillet off the bone until you can remove it completely.
  • Turn the fish over. This time, start from the tail end.
  • Remove the remaining bones using fish bone tweezers or kitchen tweezers.
  • Trim the edges of the fillets to neaten them.

Step-by-step: filleting a small roundfish

  • Lay the fish flat on the chopping board and cut into it behind the head as far as the backbone.
  • Turn the knife horizontally and press down gently on the fish with your other hand. Cut the fillet away from the backbone in one movement.
  • Repeat this process on the other side.
  • Trim the edges of the fillets to neaten them.

Step-by-step: filleting a large flatfish

  • Remove the head by cutting it just behind the gills.
  • Use kitchen shears to cut the tail off the fish.
  • Remove the fins on either side by cutting them close to the body.
  • Cut the fish in half along the backbone.
  • Remove any innards and rinse the fish under cold water.

Step-by-step: filleting a small flatfish

  • Use a knife to loosen the skin on the side of the head.
  • Once part of the skin is loose, hold the head with one hand, take a knife in the other hand, and push the skin against the knife with your thumb. Pull away more of the skin.
  • Once enough skin has been pulled loose, take hold of it firmly and pull it off the fish with your hand in one smooth movement.
  • Turn the fish over and repeat the procedure.
  • Cut into the fish behind the head.
  • Starting from the head, cut along the bone in the middle to the tail.
  • Turn your knife horizontally and cut along the bone towards the tail. Press the knife well against the bones to minimise the amount of flesh left on the bones. Repeat this procedure until you reach the side bones of the fish. The fillet is now detached from the backbone. Repeat the process for the other fillet.
  • Trim the fillets to neaten them.

Step by step: skinning the fillets
Filets of roundfish are easy to skin. If you want to poach or braise fish fillets, it is wise to remove the skin first.

  • Place the fillet on the chopping board with the skin side down.
  • Cut the fillet as far as the skin as closely as possible to the tail end.
  • Hold the tailpiece with your other hand and press it firmly.
  • Place the knife diagonally on the skin and make short horizontal cutting movements.
  • Carefully cut the flesh away from the skin, making sure that you hold the fish skin firmly. As long as you maintain tension in the skin, you generally won’t cut through it.

Can be used for:

  • Flatfish: sole, plaice, turbot, brill, dab, lemon sole, etc.
  • Roundfish: Sea bass fillet, sea bream, cod, haddock, coley/saithe/pollock, hake, whiting, grey mullet, gurnard, red mullet, sardine, mackerel, salmon, pike perch, etc. 
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