Basics: How to Fillet a Fish

Buy fish whole and fillet it yourself. Here's how.

In our Basics series, we tackle the simple kitchen tasks; no job is so small that it doesn't deserve to be done perfectly.

Buying (or catching!) fish whole has its benefits: Whole fish is more economical and often fresher, and you can use the leftover bones to make stock. With a little practice, these tips will be second nature:

  • Start with the freshest fish possible, and a sharp, thin blade.
  • Make a preliminary cut along the pectoral fin, which marks the transition from the gills to the flesh of the fillet.
  • Slice just along the dorsal fin to separate the flesh from the spine. When you reach the middle of the fish, you can cut all the way through, slicing in slow, broad strokes until you reach the tail.
  • Starting from the cut at the dorsal fin, use the tip of the knife in several strokes to cut the fillet away from the body. Repeat on the opposite side of the fish for the other fillet.
  • Heavy-duty tweezers are crucial to removing stubborn pin bones from your fillets. Rub your hand gently against the grain to find them.