Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Filleting Fish

This here is a Tailor i speared. I wanted to do something for the blog and decided that he'd make a perfect specimen for a filleting guide as most fish share the same bone structure and shape as Tailor and the guide can than be applied to most fish.

Firstly, i start with a sturdy bench and I use a dedicated chopping board for cleaning fish. I generally bleed all fish on capture and remove the gills, this is of course after a quick spike to the brain once I have the fish in my hands, this dispatches the fish quickly and ensures the struggle is over humanely, not only an ethical decision, but one that preserves the eating qualities of the fish, and excessive struggle causes build ups of lactic acid in the flesh and can taint the meat.

Another important factor here is your filleting knife, I like a flexible blade around 30cm long (handle/tang included), and you want the edge to be razor sharp, this will not only make the job much easier but much safer, a sharp knife ensures easy strokes and no dangerous forcing of the blade.

The first cuts I make on the fish are shown below in picture #2, I slice deep into the spine behind the head, then run the tip of the knife along the underside of the dorsal fin, just breaking the skin, all the way back to the tail, from the top of the initial cut. Do this on both sides first as it will make this a lot easier when the fish is all together.

The second cuts are where it will take a bit of practice to hone your skill, in picture #3, I've started bringing the fillet back off the vertical bones of the fish, to do this, peel back the skin from your second cut, and using the middle of the knife blade, slice by gently edging along the frame of the fish, using the vertical bones as your guide, gently pull at the fillet as you slice further down towards the spine, once you reach the spine, run the knife point back along the spine towards the head, breaking the little horizontal bones above the gut cavity at the spine, then using the flex of the knife to shave the belly flaps of the fillet off the rib cage like I have done in picture #3. Slice though the skin under the belly, then holding the fillet, use the flex of the knife again to remove the remainder of the fillet from the tail.

As you see here I have two lovely fillets, but the skin is still on. give the board a wash, and dry it off, sprinkle some table salt for grip, and re-sharpen your knife, place the fillet skin side down with the tail end to the left (I'm right handed), using you first two fingers, hold the skin and fillet as far back as possible, pushing down hard (like in the next picture), your first cut will be just in front of your fingers but gently so as to not break the skin of the fillet, angle the blade so as to bring the knife flat with the board with the sharp edge of the blade facing away from your fingers, and run the knife a few cm away from your hand (like in the next picture), separating the skin from the fillet, adjust your grip, you should now have enough skin to pinch and hold tight. The trick here (that takes some practice) is to learn to pull the skin while holding the knife still, flat to the board, with an ever so slight angle of the blade so as to peel the flesh from the skin as you pull the skin away from the knife. This is a skill that does take some honing and the more fish you skin, the better you become (obviously, derrr).

Then its just a matter of tidying up your fillet, slice of any dags and or red/bloody meat, and locate the bones in the middle of the widest part of the fillet, find the back one and cut a skinny 'V' from the fillet, in an effort to collect all the bones.

The final rule is to always clean the fillet in a salt brine solution, make up a bowl of salty water, keep adding salt to the water until it tastes like the ocean. NEVER use fresh waster of salt water fish, it will dry out the meat.

Done, practice it, you've learnt a skill you'll keep for your lifetime.


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