Recently I was fortunate enough to go fishing with a few friends at a nearby lake. We caught quite a few fish and looked forward to eating them. I was looking forward to eating them but forgot I was going to have to clean them. How was I going to do that? I never cleaned a fish before. Well, we all got lucky when a local resident said he would show us how.
Below I will attempt to explain how we got the job done and a few do(s) and don’t(s).
There are three ways to clean fish he explained. The first is to clean them for baking or grilling in foil. This means to leave them whole cleaning out the stomach cavity, remove the gills and surrounding tissue. Then you have to scale them.
The second way is to turn it into steaks. To steak, a fish, clean out the stomach cavity, snip off all the fins, and start slicing vertically through the body just behind the gill plate. It is best to keep the steaks at least 4 inches thick to allow for proper cooking.
He then showed us the third way and said it was the most complicated to learn, but the most versatile when it comes to using the fish and that way is filleting. He filleted from the tail to the head, but you can just as easily start at the head and work back. He pointed out that It’s a good idea not to cut into the stomach while you’re filleting. He explained that the stomach acids can affect the taste of the meat.
This next paragraph will give you a little more detail on how to clean and fillet a fish. The first thing to do is make a cut from near the gill down to the backbone. Holding the fish head, slice down into this soft spot at a slight angle towards the tail. Slide the knife through this cut until it passes from the head out the other side of the fish, near the fins. Make sure that you turn the knife blade so that it’s lying flat to the backbone. Use a slight sawing motion to slice the meat from the backbone towards the tail. Make a slight slice, and adjust the knife to make sure it’s actually scraping the backbone. He explained to not separate the meat from the tail but leave just enough skin intact to hold it in place. Flip the fish over and repeat the process.
To skin the fillets, grab the tail side, and slide the knife between the skin and the meat for about four inches or so. Cut a small slit in this skin and stick your finger in it. It will serve well as a handle for holding the skin while you slice the meat off. The technique mentioned was for fish without many scales, in order to remove scales you need a sharp knife or special tool to scrape off the scales before filleting.
The last comment this gentleman made was that we should not try this with a dull knife. Sharpen as you go because a knife will get dull after only two fish. Happy fishing and cleaning.