How to Fillet a Fish Step by Step

Learning how to fillet a fish means getting the meat of the fish without the bones. Instructions on how to fillet a fish step by step are listed below, but there are a few steps that need to come first.

Use a sharp knife and follow our step-by-step technique for perfect fillets

A note on fish scales: Before you fillet a whole fish, it should be scaled. Doing the job yourself isn’t difficult, but it’s messy, because the scales tend to fly all over and you find them in weird places around the kitchen for days after. For this reason, we always ask the fish monger to do the scaling for us. And actually, a good fish monger will also fillet the fish for you, but where’s the fun in that?

1. Choose a fish with clear eyes and firm flesh that springs back when pressed. The freshest fish will have shiny, close-fitting scales; avoid those with dry, flaky scales. You can choose to scale and gut the fish yourself at home, but it’s a messy process. Ask your fishmonger to do it — it usually takes only a few minutes.

2. At home, rinse out the gut cavity and pat it dry with a paper towel, then lay the fish on a large, clean cutting board. Place a sharp knife just behind the pectoral fin and cut diagonally down-ward until you hit the spine. Try to use one fluid cutting motion; sawing or lifting the blade can damage the delicate flesh.

3. Angle your knife parallel to the spine and push the blade toward the tail, applying steady downward pressure. Slice through the fish until you reach the front of the tail to make the first fillet. Set it aside, then flip the fish over on the cutting board and repeat the same cuts to make the second fillet.

4. To debone the fillet, angle your knife under the top of the rib bones and cut them away. Some species also have pin bones, which you can choose to keep or remove. They tend to run in a straight line through the thickest part of the fish. To remove them, press the flesh so the tips of the bones poke above the surface and pull them out with tweezers or pliers.

5. To skin your fillets, cut downward to the tail skin near the end of the fillet, then push the blade toward the front of the fish while holding the tail skin with your free hand.