It was a GREAT day out on the Chippewa Flowage, the fish were hitting like crazy, and the kids insisted on keeping them. As you dock your boat back at Musky Joe's Twin Pines Resort you wonder to yourself: Now what???!!! Don't despair, our fish cleaning house is stocked and set to turn those fish into a delicious meal.
Filleting fish takes a little finesse. Knowing the correct process to fillet a fish can make the difference between getting barely enough meat for a side dish and harvesting enough for a fish feast (not to mention getting all those nasty little bones out!)
1.) Bleed out the fish to preserve the meat. (This should be done out on the Flowage.)
Make a shallow incision with your knife or scissors under the fish's gills, and snap its head backwards to break the spinal cord. Thread a rope through the fish's mouth and out of its gills and let it bleed out into the water for a few minutes. Bleeding a freshly caught fish is vital to preserving its taste and texture. A fish that is caught but not bled out will be much messier on the cutting board and, in its final moments, the stress and struggle of death can make the meat taste acidic.
2.) Descaling your fish. (Only neccessary if you are keeping the skin on.)
You can scrape the scales off of a whole fish by using long strokes from the tail to the head of the fish with the back of a knife (Alternatively, skinning the fish also removes its scales, and can be done after you have successfully filleted it.)
Descaling the fish is recommended but not essential — if you like scales with your fish fillet, leave them on.
3.) Cut the fish's stomach open to remove its guts.
Starting from the tail, run your knife all the way along the fish's body towards the head and open the fish up. Remove the guts with your hands, and use cold water to rinse out any left over insides. You should have a completely clean fish at this point, save for the skin.
(Gutting can be a nasty process, so be sure to have a trash bin nearby that you can throw them into. Be sure to wipe down the counter afterwards, as the risk of cross-contamination is high when removing guts.)
4.) Chop off the head at the gills.
Lay the fish on one of its side, and cut the head off with a chef's knife right where it meets the gills. Cut through the fish's spine, which can take a little extra pressure, and follow through to sever the head from the body.
*** For smaller fish (bluegill, small perch, crappies) I find it easier to clean them if you leave the head on. Make an insision under the fin behind the gills. You will essentially making a half way cut to the spine on each side, seperating the fillet from the head but keeping the head attached as something to grip while moving on to the next step.
5.) Cut away fins along the sides, top, and underside with scissors.
This should be done before you make cuts to make your work more precise and remove parts of the fish that might get in the way. This can be done at the same time as de-scaling, but should be done before you begin to cut away the fillet.
6.) Run your fillet knife down the fish's spine from tail to head.
Start your cut at the base of the tail, and use the fish's backbone to guide your cut. Don't cut roughly or saw it away; instead, use a smooth and gentle slicing motion.
As you slice the fillet from the fish, lift the flesh to make sure your cut is still moving in a straight line across the backbone.
7.) Run your fillet knife over the rib cage rather than through it.
Delicately work with the shape of the rib cage instead of sawing through the bones. You can remove these bones with tweezers at a later time.
8.) Repeat the cut for the other side of the fish.
Turn the fish over so the spine is touching the cutting board, and run your knife once again down the backbone from the tail to the head. Because the fish is lighter and does not have as much to grasp onto as before, the second side can be much trickier than the first. You should have two large fillets at this point.
Watch out for the fish slipping off of the cutting board, as it may be more slick after the first fillet is cut away.
9.) Consider cutting each fillet into "steaks" for grilling.
For larger fish (Northern and Musky.) If you plan on grilling or barbecuing your fish, it is much easier to work with if it is cut into steaks. Measure out slices about 1.5 in (3.8 cm) thick on each fillet, and cut with your chef knife. Keep the leftover meat for smaller steaks for kids or to use in fish stock.
If you decide to turn your fillet into steaks, do not remove the bones or the skin, as it maintains the structure of the flesh on the grill or barbeque.
10.) De-bone the filets with a large set of tweezers or boning knife.
There is no way to totally avoid getting bones in your fillet, but you can remove them once the flesh is cut away from the spine. Feel along the middle of your fillet from the head to the tail end for bones, and use your tweezers to carefully remove them.
11.) Skin the fillet with a fillet knife.
Place the fillet skin-side down and make a cut where the skin meets the flesh. Slowly move your knife towards the opposite end, being sure to firmly grasp the skin and pull it away as you slice. Similar to de-scaling the fish, it is recommended to remove the skin before preparing a fillet to eat, but if you like skin on your fish, go ahead and leave it on. The chewy skin is unappealing to some, but it does contain additional nutrients and vitamins.
12.) Rinse the fillet with water, then store it on ice for later use.
Run water over the fillet then dry it with a paper towel, being careful not to leave any fibers on the flesh. If you won't eat the fish within two days, you should wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, put it into a ziplock bag, and keep it in the freezer. The fish will stay good for 2 to 3 months in the freezer.
If you plan on eating it within two days, fill a container large enough to hold the fish halfway with crushed ice, place the fish on top, cover the container and store it in the fridge.
You should rotate ice if it melts before you eat the fish. Keep in mind that fish will rot in the refrigerator if not kept on ice.
Hmmmmm ... Maybe I should have done How-To Catch a fish first. ;) Happy Fishing!!!
Greetings and Snowy Winter to you all!!!
For those of you that don't know me, I am the older granddaughter of the creators of Musky Joe's Twin Pines Resort. (Cassy Wilkozek) I spent my childhood on the resort learning the business from Grandpa Nory and Grandma Gen. Grandma and Grandpa cleared the land and hand built the resort over 60 years ago.