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How to fillet a fish

Watch our video guides to learn the correct techniques for filleting round fish, such as mackerel and sea bass, as well as flat fish like plaice and sole.

Master the classic cookery technique of preparing a round or flat fish with our easy video tutorials and step-by-step information. We show you how to trim the fins, then remove the innards and bones in order to extract as much of the fillet as possible. It's important when buying fish to check that is fresh, so we've also included some tips for what to look out for.

Equipment required:

  • Chopping board
  • Large knife
  • Kitchen scissors
  • Filleting knife or medium knife with flexible blade (as sharp as possible)
  • Tweezers or pliers

How to fillet a round fish

  1. Remove head by cutting at an angle just under the fins near the head on each side, and then under the fin on the underside.
  2. Snap the head off, removing any innards.
  3. Make an incision along the skin on the back of the fish, to one side of the dorsal fin.
  4. Place the tip of the knife in and run from the head to the tail, along the bones. Midway along the fish, place the knife down and through to the underside of the fish, and then run the knife along the whole fillet, to the tail. Remove the fillet by stroking the knife under the fillet from the mid point of the fish, towards the head, then remove it from the frame. Repeat on the other side. Trim skin around the fillets to neaten them.
  5. Pinbone the fillet, using tweezers to pull out the sturdy bones from the centre of the fillet, or cut along either side of them and pull the whole strip of bones out.

How to fillet a flat fish

  1. Remove the head by scoring through the skin with a sharp knife and then using scissors to cut through.
  2. Using a flexible fish filleting knife, cut down the central line until you come into contact with bone. Cut a small incision across the tail.
  3. Rest the knife on the backbone and draw it down, listening for the knife pinging along the bones, repeating until you begin to get underneath the fillet.
  4. Use a long sweeping action to stroke the fillet from the bone and pull the fillet away. Repeat on the other side, then turn the fish over and repeat until you have four fillets.
  5. Skin the fillets by placing skin-side down and turning the fillet so that the narrowest side is towards you. Hold the fillet with one hand, then position the knife so it’s nearly flat with the board, but slightly angled so you’re cutting down towards the skin. Use a sawing motion, trying not to cut into the flesh as you go.
  6. Cook as desired. The fish can be simply fried in butter on a high heat, after being rolled in seasoned flour.

How to check if fish is fresh

  • The fish should smell pleasantly of the sea – if it smells fishy, it may be off.
  • If you press the fish lightly with your finger, the flesh should spring back. If it remains, the fish is no longer fresh.
  • The eyes should be bright and shining – dull eyes mean the fish is past its best.
  • The fish skin should be firm, bright and metallic if fresh. Any discolouration or dull spots indicate the fish has aged.
  • If you pull the gills open, the insides should be bright pink-red – a dark bluey-purple colour means the fish isn’t fresh.

Put your fillets to good use in a range of delicious fish recipes. Also watch our video for how to prepare a whole fish and guide on how to prepare crab.

Although with practice it is possible to fillet a round fish without removing its innards, gutting it first ensures the fillets are not contaminated by guts, should the knife cut through bones into the guts when filleting.

How to fillet a fish

. Fillet a round fish

Step by step

How to fillet a fish

1 Making a cut across the fish at an angle, below the gill flap and fin to the belly.

How to fillet a fish

2 Making a shallow cut from behind the head along the top of the dorsal fin to the tail.

How to fillet a fish

3 Skimming the knife over the bones to free the top fillet.

How to fillet a fish

4 Releasing the top fillet from the fish.

How to fillet a fish

5 Cutting just beneath the dorsal fin from head to tail to free the second fillet.

How to fillet a fish

6 With the fish turned onto the other side, releasing the second fillet.

How to fillet a fish

7 Trimming the belly side of the fillet to remove excess fatty skin.

How to fillet a fish

8 Running the tip of a finger along the middle of a fillet to locate the bones there.

How to fillet a fish

9 Carefully pin-boning the fish fillets using kitchen tweezers.

Welcome to Fillet Fish Australia. Our filleting tutorials and filleting demos will teach you how to fillet a fish with no waste. Learn from professional filleters cutting locally caught Australian species.

How to fillet a fish

Fish Filleting Tutorial Videos

We offer a comprehensive library of easy to follow video tutorials to teach you how to fillet a fish as well as lessons on skinning, pin-boning and more.

Check out the library of filleting tutorials.

  • All videos can be watched FREE of charge
  • Created by professional fish filleters
  • Locally caught Australian species
  • Beginner to advanced filleting styles
  • Learning how to fillet a fish has never been easier!

Our video lessons are perfect for recreational fishers, chefs or anyone who wants to learn how to fillet a fish cleanly with good recovery.

Fish Filleting Demo Videos

To complement our filleting tutorials we also have an ever growing library of filleting demonstration videos so you can check out professional fish filleters in action.

Learn About Filleting

For useful information, advice and tips on fish filleting including filleting knives, recovery rates and more please browse our filleting information pages.

We have also written a detailed step by step guide on how to fillet a fish.

Fish Portion and Recovery Calculators

Do you need to work out how much whole fish you will have to fillet to get a certain number of portions? Want to know how many kilograms of boneless fillets you will get from a given weight of whole fish?

If so you might find our calculators useful.

Who are We?

How to fillet a fish

We are Konway and Rick from Western Australia. We both grew up in fishing families and spent many years filleting fish professionally (Konway still does), so we know a thing or two about cutting fish.

You can read about our backgrounds in the seafood industry here.

Got Questions?

If you would like to know more about us or our site check out our answers to frequently asked questions.

It takes a certain amount of touch to fillet a fish, but expending a little more effort at the cleaning stage is worth it because it means no bones at the eating stage. When you get the hang of filleting, you can zip through a pile of fish pretty quickly, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment that you can do something as well as the old-timers.

Don’t worry too much if you don’t get absolutely all the meat off the fish when you first start filleting. The idea at the beginning is to get some. If you skin the fish, as recommended, you do not have to scale it first. Obviously, if you are going to use the skin, scale it unless you like to eat scales. Figure 1 shows the basics of filleting a small fish (up to about 5 pounds).

How to fillet a fish

Figure 1: Filleting a small fish.

1. Cut off the head just behind the gills.

2. Hold the fish by the tail. With the knife blade pointing away from you and across the body of the fish, begin to cut toward the head (or at least where the head used to be). Use the backbone to guide your knife.

3. To take the skin off, begin by holding the fillet by the tail, skin side down.

4. Hold the knife crosswise across the fillet and insert the knife between the skin and the flesh. Don’t worry if you don’t get this perfect at first.

5. While holding the skin, cut in the direction of where the head used to be.

When you have a larger fish, the tail-to-head method of filleting can be a little awkward. In this case opening the fish like a book is an effective method, as shown in Figure 2.

How to fillet a fish

Figure 2: Try this technique for filleting larger fish.

Follow these steps (shown in Figure 2) to fillet a larger fish:

1. Make a deep cut just behind the gills (about halfway through the thickness of the fish).

2. Cut a slit a few inches in length along the top of the fish (the dorsal side).

3. Using the tip of the knife, separate the flesh from the bones, as illustrated. The fish should open up just like a book.

4. When completely open, finish cutting away the fillet by moving the knife along the “spine of the book.”

When filleting a whole finfish, it is better not to gill and gut it first. It is essential however to use a sharp knife.

There are two main filleting methods for roundfish.

Method A is the more common but it requires separate removal of the bones. This can cause some flesh to be wasted.

Method B is the preferred technique, especially for larger finfish, but pin (lateral) bones remain in the fillet.

Filleting roundfish — Method A

1. with a sharp filleting knife, cut diagonally from just behind the pectoral fin towards the head, until you reach the backbone.

2. turn the blade to lie flat on the backbone.

3. run the knife the length of the finfish from head to tail, using as few as possible smooth, slicing strokes.

4. turn the finfish over and repeat.

These fillets will still contain the pin bones and the rib bones.

To remove the bones from the fillets:

5. place the fillet skin side down. Run the knife under the rib bones and ease them out of the fillet.

6. using your fingers, feel the pin bones down the centre of the fillet. This can be done with the skin side down but is often easier with the skin side up. Cut into the flesh on either side of the line of bones, making a V cut through the fillet.

7. lift out the V-shaped strip of flesh containing the pin bones.

Alternatively, the pin bones can be removed from larger fillets with tweezers, although this can be difficult, especially on fresh fish.

Note: Larger and heavier-boned finfish call for a larger knife, but the knife must still be slightly flexible so that you can feel the bones. Different types of knives are used for filleting and steaking or gilling and gutting.

Filleting roundfish — Method B

1. cut diagonally from just behind the pectoral fin towards the head until you reach the backbone.

2. insert the knife at the dorsal (top) edge. Follow the backbone while touching the pin bones with the tip of the knife until the knife is beyond the ventral opening.

3. ease the knife straight through the body until the point of the knife protrudes beyond the ventral opening, close to the tail.

4. following the backbone, remove the tail end of the fillet with a slicing motion towards the tail.

5. lift the fillet near the head and cut through the pin bones towards the rib bones. Continue cutting the flesh away from the rib bones.

6. cut over the rib bones.

7. slice off the fillet along the ventral (bottom) edge.

8. repeat on the other side.

Filleting flatfish (for four fillets)

It is possible to produce two fillets from a flatfish, but is easier and more common to produce four fillets.

With the point of the knife, score or cut around the edge of the finfish to outline the shape of the fillets.

Make a cut along one side of the backbone.

Keeping the knife almost flat, cut the flesh away from that side of the backbone, slicing along the top of the bones towards the edge. Use a slicing action from the head end towards the tail.

Repeat on the other side of the backbone (shown here with a sole).

Repeat on the other side of the finfish. Either side can be filleted first.

Sources of Seafood Knowledge – from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation

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