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Cleaning fish - tips appreciated

Having recently moved to a lake with plentiful fish, I realize now that my cleaning skills are a far cry from my grandmother's. After cleaning four beautiful specimens last night (two bluegill and two crappie), I still ended up with a bit of innards and too many scales in my finished product. I grilled them whole, so my relative messiness didn't ruin the meal -- but the end result was far less polished than I'd like.

So you accomplished fish-cleaners out there, what are your best tips, especially for panfish with thin and delicate fillets?

Scale first then gut? Use a scaling tool, or just make do with a knife? And what kind of knife is best? I've heard raves and thumbs-down for the electric knife. My main objective is not to waste one iota of these great little creatures.

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  1. Scale and gut using a sharp filet knife only.
    You'll get better at it with practice like your grandmother.

    1. I very often take the skin off so I haven't scaled in a while but like Monku says: a sharp filet knife is key!!! I'm good but it does take practice. I like a glove too. Check out this video:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeQvSm...

      1. I find scaling the fish under running water helps keep the scales from flying all around and maybe it gets most of them off too.

        1. I don’t fish so I can’t help you with the gutting. However, I do buy whole fish. If you are going to do a lot of cleaning then I would suggest purchasing a scaling tool. I use a soup spoon to take off the scales. I put the fish in a large garbage bag and scrape away. That keeps the scales from going all over the kitchen.

          To fillet them, cut the head off first, then use the backbone as a guide. If you are not too squeamish, fry up the heads too. There is a lot of good meat there. I never eat them at the table out of respect for my wimpy family. I also fry the backbone because there is meat on that, too. Here is a good video on filleting: http://www.chow.com/stories/11243.

          4 Replies
          1. re: EvZE

            OP's fish are "pan fish" which are pretty small so you usually don't filet or remove the heads.

            1. re: monku

              I once fileted 26 sunfish for fish nuggets - It was kind of a joke but still good. White perch are my favs, sooo sweet. I filet everything.

              WEnt on a deep sea fishing trip with all guys and after catching 32 cod and haddock, they realized that only two of them knew how to filet or clean fish - until I fessed up, grabbed a knife and went to town. It was fun. - hadn't filet big fish at that point but basically the same.

              1. re: lexpatti

                My wife taught me to fish and clean them and told me we needed a fishing boat.

                1. re: monku

                  :-) We just recently got kayaks, I really want to rig it up for fishing.

          2. I've always used a spoon (outside) to scale bream, crappie, etc. first --- Cut the head off being careful to keep all of the flesh possible....Using a sharp pointed knife go into the anus and cut open the gut toward the head (where it used to be) Remove all guts, eggs etc. with your fingers....Once you have cleaned all you have...take them to the sink, and re-check the gut cavity....Large white perch can be filleted....Never been a fan of filleting bream etc.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Uncle Bob

              IMHO this is the definitive way to clean a bream.

              When you eat them make sure you nibble on the thin part of the tail fin that gets crusty. That's one of the best parts.

              1. re: GrillMaster

                Seriously--delicious. I would keep the egg sac too, dust it with cornmeal, and fry it with the fish. Yum yum.