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Jun 18, 2007 05:07 PM

Filleting Fish

My local fish purveyor (Santa Monica Seafood, for those who are interested) has absolutely stunning offerings. The problem is that all the really good stuff is $20+.

For the first time ever I actually looked at the whole fish for sale, which included sardines, seabass, salmon and others. I noticed that these are selling for about 10 bucks a pound. Assuming that I could actually manage to clean and fillet a whole fish on my own, would this be worth it, given all the waste from the head, fins, tail, etc. I know you can use these for stock, which I guess I would do if I actually bought the whole thing.

I am just not sure if the whole thing would be worthwhile, and must admit to some performance anxiety about failing to produce the beautiful filleted steaks ready to be selected in the refrigerator section. Also, I'm not sure how much to ask the fishmonger to do. Would they cut and gut the fish for me?

By the way, Joy of Cooking has helpful info on this topic, but I'd like to hear from someone who never prepared their own whole fish, then learned how to do it to see how involved and/or worthwhile this is.


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  1. Definately worth learning the skills, been doing since I was a kid, fishing in the lakes. Piece o cake once you practice. Recently went out deep sea fishing with our banker and several others (all guys and me, one lady) - fabulous day, caught 22 haddock and cod but only two fileters on the boat until I told them I could. They handed me a knife and I impressed them all with my skills. :-) It comes in handy. When you love eating fish and don't enjoy the thought of maybe getting a bone, fileting is a great skill to learn.

    1. Many larger fish places will weigh your selection and then fillet it and give you what you want/toss out what you don't. Some places will add a nominal charge for this service, others do it gratis. If the place is not too busy and the work area is not too hidden you can get a good idea of which fish it makes sense to try out at home.

      BTW I think those prices are quite high. There must be places that are more competitively priced, I'd suggest that spending less would be more conducive to your starter efforts, as whole fish at $10/lb could easily cost far more than I'd be willing to turn into "fish burgers"...

      1. I also grew up fishing and filleting a fish was a skill I learned early. With a mother that would not tolerate any waste of meat on the bone, everyone in the family learned very well. My cousin learned so well that he amazed his professors in medical school with his scalpel skills. They were incredulous when he told them he developed his knife skills cleaning fish!

        Filleting a fish is not hard if you have decent knife skills. The key is to get a very good fillet knife and keep it VERY sharp. A sharp knife makes for easy work and a beautiful fillet. We would sharpen our knives every few fillets. It makes a difference

        Good Luck.

        1 Reply
        1. re: aeros

          Ditto - the knife is soooo important!!!

        2. jono37, I'm your guy. Went fishing and hunting a lot growing up. I did more of the game prep, leaving the fish prep to my cousins. I liked hunting more than fishing then; but that changed. Now I live where there is no hunting. My wife and I are now fishing freaks.We went fishing today, came back with six cachama (Amazon fish) averaging about three pounds each. My wife is going to take one whole fish and the heads to the in-laws next week.

          As to the rest: I filleted the other five (10 fillets for future use) and quick froze. After removing all tails and fins, the remains went into making a clear, protein rich stock. And the remaining meat was stripped from the bones to make a Lao laab, which we had for dinner.

          All worth doing and knowing how to do!

          1. Absolutely you should try to learn this skill. A good knife is important as well as technique. As far as waste if you use the head, fins and bones to make stock as Sam suggested you are getting the most for your $ and will have some great stock to work with. I bet you could search YouTube for some videos on cleaning fish.