So you caught
your dream girl a fish. Nice work. Now, before the carcass reaches rigor mortis on the deck, there’s something you need to do about it. Don’t let good meat go to waste. Dissecting the flesh of a fine specimen is a particular art: done properly, it yields great rewards (delicate, delicious meat). Done incorrectly, all that time you spent on the reel goes to waste.
Chef Timmy Malloy of Local’s Corner in San Francisco has filleted his fair share of fish. His shipments arrive fresh from the dock, four times a week. What better man to turn to for a quick how-to on the art of filleting a medium-sized fish? His favorite test subject: trout. We accompanied him for the surgical deconstructing (and the culinary spoils that came with it).
1 Clean the beast. If the fish is fresh from the stream, gut it. Start from the small hole on the underside, near the tail, and cut until you reach the head. Remove insides and rinse. Then, descale the fish. If you don’t have a scaler, use a knife. Rake from tail to head until all scales are removed.
2 Begin the Surgery. Make an incision behind the head and directly behind the pectoral fin, cutting down toward the belly of the fish. Flip the fish and repeat.
3 Cut off the head. Take scissors (or your knife) and cut the spine at the two incisions, removing the head. Set aside (or roast it, if you’re into that — there’s some good meat if you dig for it).
WEAPONS OF MASS DECONSTRUCTION
Scaler: or a butter knife will do. Just always move from tail to head.
Scissors: make sure they’re hearty and can handle the pressure (and the fish detritus).
Knife: a fillet knife works best, or a super sharp chef’s knife will do the trick. Use a honing steel to ensure top precision in the knife.
Fish Bone Tweezers: don’t try normal tweezers, they’ll pick away at the flesh of the fish. If you can’t procure fish bone tweezers, just cook the fish bone-in and pick them out while you’re eating.
4 Strip the spine. Make a small incision near the tail, then cut from the collar, riding the knife along the top edge of the spine, all the way to your incision on the tail. Remove the first fillet and flip the fish. Make another small incision on the tail, and, holding the spine side down, cut along the upper edge of the spine until you reach the tail. Remove the second fillet and discard the spine and tail.
5 Clean up. Trim the belly on the base of the fillet as well as the fat and cartilage near the top. Finally, pinbone the fish. Then cook and enjoy.
ABOUT OUR EXPERT
Chef Timmy Malloy, of Local’s Corner in San Francisco, specializes in preparing the best regional seafood. The restaurant focuses on fish and produce caught, grown and gathered in the Bay Area. Malloy is a SF Chronicle Rising Star Chef and recently prepared a tasting menu at the esteemed James Beard House in NYC. He is a bicoastal chef, splitting his culinary career between New York and San Francisco. His most prized kitchen utensil is a spoon. For now, California’s seafood and agriculture is keeping him content, providing plenty of fish and farm spoils to fillet, chop, dice, and dish.