Oh say, canjust anyone fillet a fish?

September 12, 1990|By Bill Burton | Bill Burton,Evening Sun Staff

TO CATCH A FISH, a sharp hook is needed. To clean tha fish, only a sharp knife will do. It is as simple as that -- well, almost.

The biggest problem associated with missing fish that strike is dull hook. It won't penetrate the jaw. The biggest obstacle in cleaning fish is a dull knife. It won't cut evenly -- not infrequently it shreds rather than slices.

Use a sharp knife and fish cleaning won't be difficult. If the blad is flexible in addition to being sharp, the chore will be even easier.

Too often, fish cleaners are intimidated by the word "filleting." T them it conjures up the image of a salty tidewater mate or grizzled freshwater guide performing magic on a stack of dead fish.

They think that they can't do it themselves. But they can. Tak another look at the accompanying illustration; that's all there is to it.

L Before making the first slice, keep the following in mind:

*A flexible, long and narrow knife blade will curve to better "ride over the backbone of a fish, and will also work better in skinning.

*Sharpen the blade before each cleaning job. If more tha several fish are involved re-sharpen the blade lightly midway through the process. A sharp blade makes the necessary sharp cuts.

*A pair of light cotton gloves, or perhaps the new stainless steel or Kevlar (tough form of fiberglass) mesh gloves will make handling easier -- especially if many fish are to be filleted. The latter two types will also lessen chances of accidental hand cuts.

*All cuts should be made away from the person using the knife.

*Develop a sense of "feel." With a good sharp, non-rigid, blade, fish cleaner can feel the blade ride over bone, and between skin and flesh.

*In filleting, a fish can be skinned or scaled. A fish with the ski on will hold together better when cooking, but with some species, skin is tough, fishy in taste, or detracts from appearance.

*Almost any fish can be filleted, except panfish of six or seve inches and less.

*Contrary to what many think, filleting is the most efficien cleaning method in time, effort, and waste control. A good filleting job saves the best of the flesh.

*Fillets should be boneless, but some bones manage to avoi the knife. When eating, treat every fillet as if a small bone could be present.

Now, you are ready to fillet. Following is a step-by-step review o the process.

*If the fish is to be scaled, do that first. It will be much easier. Lay it on its side and scale it; then flip over and repeat. Rinse scales off.

*Slash down the side of the fish as illustrated. Ideally, this cut wil be made against the back of the skull to the backbone. Use the part of the blade nearest to the handle for easier cutting, and to keep the working part of the blade sharp for more fine work to come.

*Now comes the lengthwise cut, the most important of the whol procedure. Do it right, and you will save the best of the flesh.

Insert the blade at the top of the head, and work the knife so you can feel the blade ride against the backbone and the dorsal fin. The blade should lie flat. Now push the blade in a deliberate fashion to the tail, as shown.

*Remove the knife and then cut away any remnants that migh connect the fillet to the carcass.

*Lay the fillet, skin side down, and with the blade of the knife make a cut between the flesh and skin, then see-saw the blade towards the front, separating skin from the fillet.

*If the fillet is large, it can be cut cross-ways into smaller steak or chunks. Rinse fillets, or steaks well, pat dry with paper towels, and package for freezing or refrigerating until cooking time. That's all there is to it.

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