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How to fillet a fish with a knife

fillet a fish with a knife

What is the best way to fillet a fish with a knife? Our step-by-step guide will show you how to do with, with tips to make it an easy job.

No matter the types of fish you intend to fillet, the filleting knife is always the perfect one to use. Other types of knives may as well fillet a fish but they will not be easier to use as the appropriate fillet knife. This knife is very pliable, longer and thinner thus making it lower friction as it moves inside the bones and meat.

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How to fillet a fin fish with the appropriate knife

Step one: Removing scales, fins, and guts

Whenever you need a healthy fish pie from the fish that has not been washed at all, the first thing to do is remove its fins using kitchen shears. After that, scale it and open its belly to get the guts. Next, grab the gills and detach them (this will be easy to do since the belly will be already open).

Scaling a fish is quite dirty since scales fall all over the place. Guts are dirty as well and they have no use, so you will get rid of them. However, snipping can make the scaling process simpler.

Whenever you don’t feel like doing scaling on a small fish, use the blunt blade part. Run it starting the tail part towards the head (this is running against scales). This will be much simple if you use the appropriate scaler that works faster.

Step two: Remove extra scales

In the previous step on how to fillet a fish, you eliminated the scales; however we recommend checking if there are any that remained. This is because the scales will make filleting hard. And there are some sections of the fish where you will notice difficult scales, especially closer to the belly and around the head.

Here we also recommend using the dull part of the knife to scrape the fish from tail to head to feel if there are any scales. You can also use your hand, whichever works better for you. A knife can pry off the scales but in case of stubborn scales, you may have to use your fingers to remove them.

Step three: Slice at the back of the head

Position your fish in a manner so its back is closer to you. Use the fish knife to slice down through the region that contains meat, at the back of where it meets the head. Cut towards the head because the meat extends below it a bit. Avoid cutting near the head because the blade can enter the bony obstructions making you lose the best meat.

Step four: Get your 1st fillet

Using a filleting knife, cut along the backside, just above where there are bones that move from the head top the tail. Go on cutting and get deeper inside the fish separating the fillet from bones.

Ensure you use the same pressure on the blade. This will make it press flat against bones when cutting thus ensuring you get most of the meat.

When you reach halfway, the knife will go above the spine and you might hear or feel some clicks as it slips from vertebrate cutting via the pin bones which radiate off the spine.

Continue working towards the belly using long, uniform blade strokes and slide it at the top of the bones which are on the belly.

The fillet will come off after all that. But if in case it is still held somewhere, use the knife to cut it.

Step five: Flipping and taking out the 2nd fillet

Turn the fish and work on its other section. Position it in a manner that its back is nearer to you.

Cut at the back of its head, angle towards the head while you get deeper to ensure you do not lose the best meat.

Cutting from the middle section, cut along the back towards the head, just above the bones. Next, turn your knife making it point towards the tail and slide through the fillet until it gets out the next side. As you do that, make sure you are pressing the knife against fish bones and cut towards the tail until when you cut the fillet from half of the tail.

Next, turn your knife making it face the head side and use it in cutting the fillet. You may as well ride right at the top of bones while pressing downwards gently until you reach the fish spine region.

After going beyond the spine, take some time to look for the right angle to pull the fillet from the bones inside the belly.

This is how you fillet a fish and you will have gotten your two fillets at this point.


After you finally get fillets, you should trim them and eliminate all pin bones. To eliminate pin bones, use tweezers. Ensure you hold the upper region of the pin bones without cutting the flesh. After doing that, wash your fillets and cook them. If you know how to use a fish knife, you will now be able to fillet any fin fish in the correct manner.

Author’s bio: The writer of this article, LaBonte, also works as a fisherman and he is also a chef. The steps he has explained here are the ones he follows whenever he wants to fillet a fish. LaBonte also loves writing about recipes for preparing fish and fish is also his favorite food.