Filleting Fish

The main part of the flesh of a fish constitute the body muscles, two dorsal and two ventral muscles on each side separated from one another by strong connective tissue along the lateral line.

The main muscle of the fish.

The main muscle of the fish.

Remember that the ventral muscle is covering the rib cage in the front of the fish and is much thinner there. It becomes thicker again as it passes the vent towards the tail. Some sources recommend removing scales, others ask to leave them on. Scales act as a tough barrier and removing scales provides the following benefits:

  • Faster salt penetration during brining.
  • Faster smoke penetration.
  • The product develops better gloss and looks more appealing.

Use only meaty fish for filleting. Supermarkets sell frozen fish fillets but they are often packaged in a way that prevents seeing the contents. The bag that weighs one pound may contain many thin fillets. Keep in mind that a fillet will lose a lot of moisture during smoking and cooking. A thin fillet will become so thin after smoking that it may be difficult to handle.

The flounder fillet is much thinner than that of the tuna or salmon.

The flounder fillet is much thinner than that of the tuna or salmon.

You can leave the skin on fat fish like mullet, salmon, mackerel, trout, eel or bluefish. Fat fish have substantial amount of fat under their skins and this skin can be easily peeled of after smoking. The skin of lean fish such as cod, whiting, flounder, tilapia will adhere to the flesh very tightly after smoking and will be hard to remove. Make sure that the screen is oiled to prevent fillets from sticking. A lighter-flavored fillet can be produced by deep skinning the fish and discarding the underside layer of the skin. The disadvantage is that even a skilled operator must throw away a lot of usable meat that is located around the backbone.

Sheepshead also known as the “convict” fish is often caught along with mullet. The filleting procedure for both fish is the same, however, sheepshead fillets are thicker.

Sheepshead

Sheepshead

A cut is made around the gill cover. There is no need to cut off the head or gut the fish when filleting.

A cut is made around the gill cover. There is no need to cut off the head or gut the fish when filleting.

A cut is made on the top side of the fish as close to the backbone as possible. Make sure that the knife is sharp and take your time.

A cut is made on the top side of the fish as close to the backbone as possible. Make sure that the knife is sharp and take your time.

The knife separates flesh from the skin using a sawing motion. On the underside of the skin you can find a red and oily layer of flesh. This is where most of the fish flavor is present.

The knife separates flesh from the skin using a sawing motion. On the underside of the skin you can find a red and oily layer of flesh. This is where most of the fish flavor is present.

The hardest part is to cut over the rib cage. It is difficult to feel the rib cage when a fish is small.

The hardest part is to cut over the rib cage. It is difficult to feel the rib cage when a fish is small.

Sheepshead fillet.

Sheepshead fillet.

Filleted sheepshead.

Filleted sheepshead.

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