Though you can get fish fillets at most supermarkets, buying a whole fish and filleting it yourself has benefits: You can easily tell if a whole fish is fresh by its clear eyes and bright red gills, and the leftover bones make a flavorful stock. Eric Ripert, chef-owner of Manhattan’s Le Bernardin restaurant, where 700 to 1,000 pounds of fish are filleted each day, showed us how to do it. For a video tutorial, check out our Basics video »
1 Lay a raw, chilled fish that has been gutted and scaled on a cutting board with backbone facing you. With the blade of your knife, feel for the collarbone, just behind the gills, and make an incision parallel to and slightly behind it, leaving the head attached.
2 Starting with your blade in the incision, slice along the spine from head to tail, separating the flesh from the ribs.
3 Remove the fillet from the body, cutting through the skin bordering the belly. Turn the fish over and repeat steps 1 through 3.
4 Place fillet skin side down. Cut a nick about ½″ from the tail end and insert knife at a 45° angle; slide blade under fillet while wiggling skin back and forth with your other hand until fillet is released. (To cook fillets skin-on—see How to Pan-Fry Fish—skip this step.)
5 Run the back of your knife blade along the top of fillet from head to tail against the grain of the flesh to reveal the pin bones in the center of the fillet.
6 Using pliers, tweezers, or your fingers, pluck out and discard the pin bones. Repeat with the remaining fillet.