Butchering and Filleting ‘Two Fillet’ Fish

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Anderson, who volunteered his butchering skills in service of Fish, works with fish of all varieties at The Fish Guys in Minneapolis.

Fish: Filleting 

Congratulations, you now have a fish that’s ready to butcher! This brings me to my friend Anderson, who volunteered his butchering skills in service of this book. Anderson works with fish of all varieties at a fish company called The Fish Guys located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The sheer volume of fish he sees and works with makes him a great resource for all things that live in the water. When we came up short catching fish for this book, Anderson and The Fish Guys were right there with something to fill in the spot.

There are two types of fish filleting for the fish used in this book. First is for your standard-issue walleye, bluegill, perch, etc., and secondly are northerns and muskies. There are minor differences in all the fish but the basics are the same. With northerns and muskies you have to look out for Y-bones, which are fine bones that stand up through the midsection of the fish; the rest can be butchered without this in mind. For purposes of this book I refer to the cleaning of northern and muskie as a “five filet” fish. The more traditional method, we’ll call the “two fillet” method.

I’ve seen a few overarching techniques for filleting fish, but my favorite comes from Anderson, who can move through a pile of fish damn quickly. Starting with a gutted fish he simply cuts in front of the gills and then straight across the backbone of the fish keeping the rib bones in place on the fillet. He then flips the fillet, removes the ribs, and fillets the fish cleanly.

Filleting ‘Two Fillet’ Fish

The steps following assume you are working with gutted fish. If you plan to keep the skin on for cooking, scale the fish before taking fillets off the body.

Step 1: Place your sharp knife just in back of the gills of the fish.

Step 2: Cut down toward the spine until your blade hits the spine. Cut through the spine and remove the head and set aside.

Step 3
Place your knife blade parallel to the spine at the opening where the head was.

Step 4
Making sure your knife is running underneath the open gut side of the meat, run your knife along the spine of the fish all the way through the base of the tail and remove the fillet.

Step 5: Place your knife parallel to the other side of the spine and run your knife down the spine to remove it from the flesh.

Step 6: With the flesh facing upward, carefully remove the ribs by running your knife under the rib cage.

If keeping the skin on, skip steps 7 and 8.

Step 7: Run your knife between the flesh and the skin at the tail end of the fish for about 1 inch (2.5 cm). Make a small incision with your knife into the skin of the fish by the tip of the tail, large enough to poke your finger into.

Step 8: With your finger anchoring the skin of the fish, run your knife, angled toward the skin, down the rest of the fillet.

Step 9: Remove pin bones toward the front of the fish by cutting around the line where you can feel them, or remove them with bone tweezers.

You should now have a boneless, skinless fillet ready to cook and eat! Use any trim for Basic Fish Stock. If you want to leave the skin on remove scales before butchery and skip steps 7 and 8.

Also from Fish: Recipes and Techniques for Freshwater Fish:

From water to table, Fish — author and chef Jonathan Wipfli’s follow-up to Venison — shows you how to responsibly harvest and clean freshwater game fish throughout the seasons, and how to cook them perfectly. Be the star fisher and chef at every dinner and cookout! Written by the author and chef behind a Minneapolis-based catering services company specializing in wild game, Fish takes readers through Jonathan Wipfli’s techniques for efficiently processing and cleaning game fish, as well as a raft of 50 contemporary recipes for dishes and accompanying sides. Addressing the most popular freshwater game fish pursued by North American outdoors enthusiasts — including walleye, pike, catfish, trout, salmon, bass, panfish, and more — Fish puts a new foodie-friendly spin on game fish cookery.

Reprinted with permission from Fish: Recipes and Techniques for Freshwater Fish by Jon Wipfli and photography by Colleen Eversman and published by Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc., 2019.

Inspiration for edible alchemy.