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Style of Fillet knife

Having for the first time in a very long time bitten the bullet and bought a whole fish to gut and fillet myself (mackerel, to be precise), I found that the knives I had were drastically inadequate... I ended up doing most of the work with an 8" carving knife/slicer, because my chef's knife (8" Sabatier) was too bulky and a paring knife too small. The problem was that using the rigid carving knife, I lost a lot of fish in the process.

How useful is a flexible filleting knife, or should I just practice using what I have? With where I now live (5min from one of the biggest fish markets in Sweden), I can see myself doing this a lot...

If I do get a dedicated knife, is the full-blade style http://www.global-knife.com/products/... or the cutaway "Swedish" style http://www.global-knife.com/products/... better? (I wouldn't get globals - I don't like the handle at all - but they're the first brand I could think of that has easily viewable pictures of both so the two styles can be compared without brand differences!).

I know someone is going to suggest a deba/yanagiba combination, but at the moment I think I'd rather stick to western knife styles since that's the technique that I'm used to.

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  1. I'm partial to what you call the "cutaway style", though, honestly, that's the only kind of filet knife I've ever seen or used. In fairness, I should note that I was standing on a dock for most of the fish I've cleaned/fileted over the past thirty-odd years, using filet knives with plastic handles that I bought at bait shops. Those picture you linked are pretty though.

    1. The 6" boning knife included with a knife set I was once given, is what you call the "Swedish" style. It's thin and flexible enough to fillet fish and debone other meats. "Thin" is the operative word, and also flexible. The "full-blade" knife you link to doesn't look right for the job, though it could be useful as a utility knife when the chef's knife is awkward and the paring knife is too small.

      3 Replies
      1. re: John Francis

        Agree. Long, thin, flexible, and sharp.

        1. re: Veggo

          Add in cheap and you've described every filet knife I've ever loved (and, often, lost).

          1. re: MGZ

            "It's better to have loved and lost than never to have filleted at all."
            Alfred, Lord Tennyson (slightly modified)

      2. No need to spend a fortune on a filet knife. The inexpensive "high Carbon" Dexter S133 (7") (8") (9") have been the most commonly used knives for decades in the seafood industry & also the most popular choice of party/charter boat captains. Very sharp edge & just as easy to maintain the edge. They come with wood or the Sani-Safe plastic handles MGZ refers to.

        I have cut thousands of pounds of fish with Dexters & have the 7" for smaller fish like Seabass & the 9" for the bigger fish like Stripers & flat fish like flounder where I slide the long blade down the backbone and cut off a filet with one swipe toward the fins.

        1. I am no fish filet expert, so I will restrain my recommendation. However, I have always love this youtube video. I don't mean to recommend the deba knife. I just think this video is nice. She is not professional, but she is entertaining to watch, and she has good skill.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0Oakn...

          Now, back to your two knives. I always have an impression that a fuller blade is a bit better for larger fish, while a thinner (thinner in blade width not blade thickness) is a bit easier for smaller fish for maneuver. The truth is that either knife will work for your Mackerel.

          9 Replies
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Damn! She's a girl, who can clean a fish and sharpen a knife...what's not to like?

            1. re: JavaBean

              I thought her comment was funny about knife sharpening. If I remember right, she said that showing off knife sharpening skill is impressive to boyfriends and his family -- EXCEPT not on the first date.

              I can tell you in my experience -- this is absolutely true. Do not talk about knife sharpening in the first date. :) This is why I think she is so funny.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                I can tell you in my experience -- this is absolutely true. Do not talk about knife sharpening in the first date. :)

                LOL! My wife took about two or three years to stop rolling her eyes and shaking her head.

                1. re: JavaBean

                  <LOL! My wife took about two or three years to stop rolling her eyes and shaking her head.>

                  Do you mean that you told her about your knife sharpening experience when you two went on your first date?

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    I can't remember specifically, but i whipped out my mall ninja pocket knife in front of her early on. So,she's always known i had thing for sharp toys.

                    1. re: JavaBean

                      <but i whipped out my mall ninja pocket knife in front of her early on.>

                      In all seriously, it does not really sound that bad. A lot of guys do that -- unless of course, you went on and on about your knife for 10+ minutes.

            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

              I cringe when she makes the final cut to remove the fillet and she is cutting towards her hand.

              Jim

              1. re: knifesavers

                <final cut to remove the fillet and she is cutting towards her hand.>

                I don't see it. At 3:27 and 4:41 min, she has moved her hand left hand away from the knife path. Do you mean earlier?

                http://youtu.be/D0OaknSxYNE?t=3m27s

                http://youtu.be/D0OaknSxYNE?t=4m41s

              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Nice video Chem. She does know how to use that deba very well and kept me amused with her wit.

              3. The G-30 is the style most widely used here in North America. Of course, a lot of the dedicated non-commercial fishermen use Rapala, Dexter, or the cheapest flexible blade at the sporting goods store.

                The G-18 is more in the style of an Edo style sushi knife, but I use mine after I have taken blocks from large mackerel, yellowfin, snapper and grouper.

                Unless you will be taking apart a lot of whole fish, I would recommend the cheapest flexible fish fillet knife in the 20 centimeter length. And you will be getting much more meat off the bones with a little practice.

                11 Replies
                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                  "The G-30 is the style most widely used here in North America. Of course, a lot of the dedicated non-commercial fishermen use Rapala, Dexter...."

                  Have to respectfully disagree as Its been my experience that most commercial fish cutting houses, commercial fishermen & mates use stamped Dexters or the equivalent. Most captains bring them in by the dozen and in most cases cheap pull through sharpeners replaced stones for speed purposes years ago on most decks. When the Dexter's lost too much metal they were re-ground into short bait knives.

                  1. re: Tom34

                    Wait... It seems to me that you two actually agree. It is just that INDIANRIVERFL said non-commerical, and you said commerical. Both of you did say Dexter is the choice for most people.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I took "Non commercial fisherman use Rapala, Dexters" as meaning commercial fisherman use something else..... but after reading the post several times I agree that INDIANRIVERFL may not have meant it to read that way.

                      Having cut thousands of lbs of fish both recreationally & commercially, IMHO, a G-30 or other expensive filet knife offers no advantages for "basic" filleting other than holding an edge longer which IMHO is negated by being far more difficult and time consuming to sharpen.

                      The slash marks (very common) are the result of not maintaining the proper blade angle to the bones. Due to bag limits, many very good fishermen never really get or keep the "feel" for filleting because they are only doing a doz or less fish at a time. On the other hand, stand there and do several hundred in one session and by the time your done, the carcasses wouldn't hold enough meat to feed a hungry green head fly.

                      1. re: Tom34

                        <as meaning commercial fisherman use something else..... >

                        I know, I know. I was thinking that possibility too, but then I realize that maybe INDIANRIVERFL only suggests he only knows non-commerical fisheerman use Dexters, and he rather not comment on something he does not know.

                        I am very new to fish fileting, so like the original poster, my skill can be vastly improved. :)

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Chem,

                          Just like you folks who free hand sharpen on stones, there is a feel when the blade is at just the right angle to the bones. Key to developing that feel is to resist strong handing the knife & let the "sharp" blade do the work.

                          1. re: Tom34

                            <Key to developing that feel is to resist strong handing the knife>

                            I think that is a good suggestion. I was cutting the bone (spine) and stuck, and then I over-corrected....etc. That's ok. My first filet fish experience -- as far as I can remember. :P

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              You could try buying a flat of bunker at a bait shop for about $20.00 and cut away for practice & then give the fillets to a cat lover :-)

                              1. re: Tom34

                                I use a Dexter as do all the guides I've fished with here on the Texas Gulf Coast, except the one or two that use electric. I used Rapalas but both I had the wood handle rotted away from the blade from the saltwater use. The Dexter also does a good job trimming up fajitas.

                                1. re: James Cristinian

                                  The Dexter's I used commercially back in the 80's had the classic wood handles but they have offered the same blade in Sani -Safe plastic handles for quite some time. I am long removed from the business but the Dexter's were as good as others and better than most at a very reasonable price. Filleting a fish has as much to do with the hand that held the knife as the knife itself. Dexter's do as well as any, available anywhere, at a good price.

                                  1. re: Tom34

                                    <Filleting a fish has as much to do with the hand that held the knife as the knife itself. >

                                    Probably true for any tasks really, and probably 90% to do with the hand and 10% to do with the knife.

                          2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Sorry for the confusion. Commercial finfish has stopped here due to pollution. Part time commercial(school teachers in summer) also a memory. Hence my reference.

                            All of the local fish packing houses shut down with the state wide net ban.

                  2. I have no hands experience with a deba (yet), but like other Japanese single bevel knives, it’s designed to be used in a very specific way (called Sanmai Oroshi sp?) www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrBjgFfeo4A

                    If you can overcome the learning curve, a deba should yield a cleaner cut with less meat left on the bones because the blade is designed to ride along the bones.

                    I’ve been using a long, narrow, flexible western fillet knife, forever and always end up with slashing the meat, etc. Not a big deal if you cook the fish, but is huge with sushi.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: JavaBean

                      i agree that a single bevel knife is a very precision tool but IMHO they require an advanced skill level as they can easily shave bone into the meat as they are razor sharp & very unforgiving with the slightest angle error. Very popular with accomplished Sushi chefs in a stable kitchen environment though. True art work with a knife!

                      1. re: Tom34

                        I have always consider to get a deba. The only reason I have held back is that I do not filet a lot of fish. I eat plenty of fish, just not fileting them. However, I am increasing moving in this direction now. I wonder if it is time for me to reconsider getting a deba. It sounds like you two have some experience of using a deba. Do you think it is a good knife for small fish (1.5-2 pounds).

                        By the way, I was skeptical when I bought my honesuki to debone chicken. I didn't think it would be better than a traditional boning knife, but I bought it anyway due to high recommendations from some people who I really respect here. Man, I must say that I was convinced after the second time I used the knife. (I wasn't completely convinced the first time using it). Honesuki really works well for me.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Chem,

                          I don't have a deba. I have tried a friends a couple times but not on fish.

                          My concern is the lack of blade flexibility combined with a razor sharp single bevel edge would make it very easy to cut/shave bone fragments into the filet with just a little mistake in terms of too much angle toward the bones. I would think smaller thinner bones in smaller fish could easily be severed with too much angle. Thin flexible double bevel western style blades are pretty forgiving in this area.

                          Technique is everything and mastering the technique requires proper instruction & lots of practice. I think in experienced hands a single bevel deba would outperform a western style filet knife in terms of precision but I don't know about speed of production.

                          During the Mackerel run, a 100 lb burlap bag of Mackerel can usually be had for about $20.00 at the party boat docks & flats of bunker are avail at most serious bait shops all season. Both make for cheap filleting practice as do Sunny's, Blue Gills & Perch from lakes.

                          1. re: Tom34

                            I don’t have a deba, but do have a yanagiba and usaba. Yes, the skills needed to use and maintain a single bevel knife is much different than a double bevel knife. At first, they’re a nightmare but once past the learning curve they’re a way better than a double bevel knife - on certain tasks.

                            I’ve cut through pin bones with a yanagiba. I did it the first couple of times without even knowing it. But after learning to use a looser grip & index finger on the spine of knife, I could easily feel the knife tapping against pin bones. I suspect hitting a pin bone may be more noticeable with a deba.

                    2. I have been using a couple of Rapala brand fillet knives for decades - these have tapered, flexible blades - love them (similar in look to the one in your first link; I have one with about an 8" blade and the other is about 4-5" - was not expensive way back when, and still is a bargain, in my opinion. The flexible blade really helps when you are stripping off the skin. Originally made in Finland, I am not not sure about the new models. Hope this helps a little. Here's a link: http://www.rapala.com/Fish-n-Fillet-K...

                      1. Hi David-

                        Good post, and great videos.

                        Handling a knife while cutting Saba, or Mackerel takes a bit of practice. I like both videos, but the technique used in the second video is how I learned to do it, while a student at Waseda University. ( I confess it took me the entire scholarship period in years to learn it correctly ).

                        I have a Global knife set with a large number of knives from Europe, and actually prefer the Global Filet knife with smaller fish like Saba. But I do sharpen first, and most importantly, keep the handle clean. If it gets slippery from fish, the knife handle can slip in my hand at the wrong moment.

                        Running the blade along the backbone is true with many fish species, and I use it as a guide that I am almost ready to " pop " the fillet, and proceed to the opposite side.r

                        Best advice I can offer is keep your knives sharp, clean, and dry. A good bone-plucking tool is an absolute must, as nothing can ruin a meal easier than a lot of fish bones that should have been pulled.

                        I would also suggest watching those that clean fish as a profession in fish markets for new techniques and tools: One of the best Sushi and fish prep chefs I met in Japan was a Sansei from Brasil: An absolute artist !

                        1. This leather-sheathed filet knife from Martiini is the one I picked up at a fishing store over 30 years ago, and still use.
                          http://www.marttiini.fi/epages/Martti...

                          It's great for slipping off the silver skin from lamb and pork tenderloin, too.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: kitchengardengal

                            My one and only knife from Finland is still there in the drawer, but circa about 1964.

                            Ah memories. Great history from Marttini Finland. Thank you for the link.

                            1. re: SWISSAIRE

                              My dad was a guide & had one of them for years & did some mighty fine cutting with it. He free handed on a stone and you could shave with it. My older brother probably has it now.

                            2. re: kitchengardengal

                              I've been filleting fish since my dad taught me as a youngster, nearly 40 years ago. It has almost ALWAYS been with a Marttiini knife. There is one in my freshwater tackle box here at home, and one in my saltwater box at the beach. There is one in my dad's tackle box as well (also at the beach, which is where dad, and my saltwater box, now reside). Mine are, I think, Rapala ones, but they still say Marttiini, Finland on the blade. I've used other inexpensive tackle shop knives, and have not been pleased with how they perform. I can't comment on fillet knives from Global, etc., as I have not had the opportunity. But I can't see wanting anything other than a nice sharp Rapala/Marttiini.

                            3. Hi, David:

                              The fish I fillet are mostly salmon, but they range in size from about 7 pounds up past 40. I like the Rapalla-style profile with the thickness being bendy enough to bow the blade after it's slid under the rib bones near the backbone and let it follow those bones all the way to the belly. I think this saves squaw candy and makes for a cleaner looking fillet.

                              I also find that with this shape and flex, I mostly work the knife--as opposed to mostly wrestling the fish. I've seen charter operators do great work on tuna with a thick scimitar-style breaking knife, too, though.

                              The blade I use for salmon is longer than most, at 10", but my neighbor made it for me and it's what I'm used to.

                              Aloha,
                              Kaleo

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                My Dear K -

                                Do you employ a forklift perhaps, for that 40 pound Salmon ?

                                Or is that why you are inviting the family over for the Choux farci au Saumon ?

                                " Ok everyone, I need your help in sliding the Salmon out of the stretched panel van parked out front, and into the kitchen.

                                Yes, it does seem big, and I do need all 10 of you. And please everyone, sign and date the disclaimer regarding any personal injury attorneys, First !. "

                                1. re: SWISSAIRE

                                  Hi, Robert:

                                  So far, no forklift needed, but a extra pair of hands is welcome when butterflying them for open-fire cooking.

                                  So far, no USA release of the second movie. :(

                                  Aloha
                                  Kaleo

                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                    I see. That might be a box full of stainless steel filet gloves.

                                    it appears you were quite correct about the Film Topic relocation or The Doldrums.

                                     
                                  2. re: SWISSAIRE

                                    When you have the pleasure of meeting K in person, you'll realize he's lifted many a 40 lb salmon (or other heavier weights).

                                2. Thanks, all! It looks like flexibility is an advantage when using western-style knives and filleting technique, and that slender blades are preferred (either tapered straight after the bolster, or just slender to begin with), so long as they are kept sharp (though sharpness is a virtue for all knives).

                                  Now to head for the shops!

                                  1. David

                                    I had a number of filleting knives (including Sabatier and Victorinox) before I bigged up and bought the Global Swedish filleter. It's perfect, and I've given all my others away.

                                    13 Replies
                                    1. re: Robin Joy

                                      The Global debate continues-they might be fine in a kitchen setting but on a dock with a pile of fish and less than ideal cutting conditions that metal handle is the last thing I'd want.

                                      1. re: Sam Salmon

                                        That would really hurt to see a Global heading for the water after it squished out of a hand coated with fish slime.

                                        1. re: Sam Salmon

                                          Whole heartily agree but then I never really got the Global metal handle anyway.

                                          1. re: scubadoo97

                                            Hi, scoobadoo:

                                            Yeah, I don't think Ferdinand Porsche was much of a butcher or fishmonger...

                                            Aloha,
                                            Kaleo

                                          2. re: Sam Salmon

                                            The Global handle debate has never stopped and therefore will continue.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              Indeed - and I'm thoroughly against them because the few times I've used them they *always* slip out of my hand if it gets greasy for any reason - and for that matter they're also (in my opinion) a really ugly design! Give me a proper wooden handle with a nice grain any day of the week...

                                              1. re: DavidPonting

                                                I've never liked them, but after having one slip while deboning a chicken won't touch them.

                                            2. re: Sam Salmon

                                              Oh yes Sam, I'm just a keen home cook. Globals are however used by an excellent fishery local to me:

                                              http://ventnorhavenfishery.co.uk/inde...

                                              1. re: Robin Joy

                                                Forget about your local fishery. I remember you have Global knives, and your previous post just stated that you have used yours for your task. So I think this is good information. The only question I have for you is that "how did you like the handle when you were using it to filet your fish?"

                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                  I can't forget about them Chem.....They're constantly in my thoughts! Also it's where I first saw the Global in question being used. They still use them.

                                                  My Swedish filleter is pretty much the only Global I use regularly. I even gave away my Global vegetable knife/chopper as I was concerned about how thin it seemed at the handle/blade junction. It was distinctly thinner than the back of the blade, almost as if a blacksmith had beaten it out.

                                                  The handle is just fine for me, but then I rarely prep more than a couple of fish at a time, always at home in my kitchen. A commercial fishmonger might have a different view.

                                                  1. re: Robin Joy

                                                    <I can't forget about them Chem.....They're constantly in my thoughts! Also it's where I first saw the Global in question being used. They still use them.>

                                                    :D

                                            3. re: Robin Joy

                                              Which style did you have in the Sabatier/Victorinox knives? "Swedish" thin blade or a fatter one? If "Swedish", why do you prefer the Global (handle choice?); if a fatter one then you've just answered my initial question (that the "Swedish" style is better).

                                              1. re: DavidPonting

                                                The blades were about 3/4 inch broad, a bit like this:

                                                http://www.nisbets.co.uk/sabatier-fil...

                                                More "springy" rather than truly flexible.

                                                The very narrow blade style just works for me. A Victorinox type Fibrox handle would in truth be an improvement though.