Cleaning a Fish

April 30, 2004

Cleaning a Fish. Fisherman on a Dock Scaling a FishThe quality of the preserved fish begins with the handling of the fish when caught. Handle fish carefully; they bruise easily. Keep fish out of the sun. Clean, dress and wash fish immediately; then pack them in ice, or refrigerate them as soon as possible to prevent deterioration. Use within 1 to 2 days.


Follow these basic steps for cleaning, dressing and steaking fish.

1. Wash fish. Use clean, drinking-quality water.

2. Scale or skin as required. Remove scales by scraping with dull edge of a knife from the tail to the head. If you skin the fish, it is not necessary to scale it. To skin, split the skin down the back, and loosen around the fins. Use pliers to remove the skin, pulling from head to tail.

3. Cut entire length of belly from vent to head. Remove viscera and gills if the head is not to be removed.

4. To remove the head (if desired) cut to the backbone above the collarbone. Break the backbone over edge of a table or cutting board, then cut any tissue holding the head to the body.

5. Remove dorsal (large back) fin by cutting along each side and pulling the fin and attached bones out. Never trim off fins because the bones at the base of the fins will be left in the fish.

6. Wash fish thoroughly in cold running water.

7. Large fish may be steaked. To steak, cut fish crosswise into portions about 1 inch thick.

Fish may be filleted without first removing the viscera. With a sharp knife, cut down the back of the fish from the tail to the head. Then cut down to the backbone. Angle the knife to cut away the flesh from the backbone, allowing the knife to run over the rib bones. Lift off the side piece, freeing the fillet at the tail.

Turn the fish over, and cut the fillet from the other side. If you wish to skin the fillet, lay it skin-side down on a cutting board. Hold the tail end with your fingers, and cut through the flesh away from it by running the knife forward while holding the free end of the skin firmly between your fingers.

Source: MSU Extension

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