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How to Fillet a Fish Like a Pro

You know how to select the freshest, firmest halibut, but taking it from the fishmonger's counter to a wine-drenched plate requires a step many find intimidating: eting. Never fear. ChefSteps' Grant Crilly has some tips that will turn this previously frustrating task into a relaxing ritual.
MarthaChefStepsHalibutFilet.jpg (skyword:210665)
For perfect fillets, keep an eye on your knife angle and make sure your cutting hand stays dry.

These tips are designed to help you break down flatfish like halibut, flounder or sole, but you can apply the general principles to almost any fish you can find at the market.

The Tools for the Job

The first secret to frustration-free filleting? Good, sharp knives. For our method, you'll need three: first, a stiff knife such as your chef's knife; second, a long, flexible slicing knife; and third, for the detail work, a paring or petty knife. Round out your list with kitchen shears, some sheet pans lined with parchment paper, and -- if you want to make use of every flaky morsel -- a spoon.

The Key to Flatfish: The Lateral Line

You've cleaned your fish, trimmed off the fins, and used a stiff, sharp knife to remove the head. (Be sure to save it!) Now how do you approach that funny-looking creature?

 

First, find the lateral line, a slightly raised ridge that runs along the center of the fish. Use the stiff knife to slice along this line from neck to tail, making sure to cut all the way to the bone. This slit will serve as your guide as you cut the fillets.

All About the Angle

To start filleting, switch to the flexible knife. Starting at the neck end of the lateral slit, angle your knife nearly parallel to the ribs and use long strokes to separate the fillet from the bones. As you work, pull the fillet back ahead of your knife to expose the attached flesh.

 

Once the fillet is removed, set it on the parchment paper and use the same long cuts to remove the opposite fillet. Flip the fish and repeat the process.

Good to the Last Flake

Use the spoon to scrape any excess meat from the bones. Save it for soup -- or perhaps fish cakes.

 

Fantastic Fish Recipes
MarthaChefStepsHalibutSkin.jpg (skyword:210666)
Grasp the fillet with a notch in the skin, and it'll be smooth slicing from here on out.

Get a Handle on the Skin

To keep the fillets in place while removing the skin, Grant uses a handy trick: Place a et skin side down on your work surface. Starting near the end of the tail and moving toward the head, cut diagonally through the flesh until you reach the skin. Now slice along the skin for a few inches. Fold back the flesh to expose the skin, and cut a notch in it just large enough to fit one finger through. Use this to hold the filet while you remove the rest of the skin.

Feeling a Little Cheeky?

You didn't throw out that head, did you? Good, because many say the cheek is the tastiest cut. To remove it, use a paring knife to cut along the curve of the cheek line. Next, insert the blade beneath the cheek at a shallow angle and slice toward the front of the head while pulling up the flesh. Flip the head and repeat on the other side.

 

After you cut off the skin, you can treat fish cheeks much like scallops. Try them seared in butter and brightened with lemon.

Need Inspiration?

What should you do with those four glistening fillets? Try baking or poaching them, or cook them sous vide!

 

Want step-by-step instructions? Grant walks you through the process in the video below:

 

 

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