How to Scale, Gut, Fillet and Skin Fish-tips-How to Clean Fish-step by step

How to Scale, Gut, Fillet and Skin Fish

Most fishmongers will gut and scale fish for you, but these tasks are quite simple to do at home. Preparing your own fish is not only cheaper but, if it is white fish, leaves you with the head and trimmings to use in stock. Assuming you already have in the kitchen a large chef’s knife, essential for cutting fish and chopping bones, and a pair of kitchen scissors, useful for cutting off fins, the only essential item you will need for preparing fish is a good, very sharp filleting knife with a thin, flexible blade.

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  • A large chef’s knife
  • Kitchen scissors
  • Filleting knife


How to Scale Fish


Method: Scale fish over the kitchen sink. Hold the fish firmly by its tail with the tail end nearest to you. Using the blunt edge of a chef’s knife, scrape the scales away from you and towards the head of the fish, doing one side first than turning the fish over to do the other side. The scales will flake away quite easily as you work. Don’t be too vigorous, or scales will fly across the kitchen. Wash the scaled fish well and pat it dry with kitchen paper.

How to Gut Fish

Gutting-a-Fish-How-to-Clean-Fish-method-step 1

STEP 1: To gut round fish, hold the fish with its stomach pointing upwards. Pierce the fish just below the head and cut firmly down towards the tail until you reach the end of the stomach cavity.


STEP 2: Pull out the intestines, egg sac and other insides. Discard these; since they are not suitable for stock.

How to Gut Fish-How-to-Clean-Fish STEP 3

STEP 3: Scrape away any sacs of blood (often adhering to the spine). Wash the inside of the fish well and pat dry.

STEP 4: To gut flat fish, put the fish, dark skin side upwards, on a work surface and pierce the flesh at the backbone just below the head. Work the knife carefully towards the side of the dish, keeping close to the bone. Pull out the insides with your fingers and discard. Wash the fish well and pat it dry.

How to Fillet a Fish

Filleting fish yourself leaves you with the head, bones and trimmings for making fish stock. This is where a very sharp, flexible and thin-bladed knife is essential.

STEP 1: To fillet a round fish, lay the scaled and gutted fish flat on a work surface and cut through to the backbone by the head and tail; score along one side of the backbone. With the knife at a slight angle, and working as close to the backbone as possible, cut down with a slight sawing motion to lift the top fillet away from the bone. Keeping the knife as close to the bone as possible ensures that you will not lose any flesh. Lift away the fillet, turn the fish over and repeat the process to gain a second fillet.


STEP 2: To fillet a flat fish, lay the gutted fish in front of you with the head furthest away. Score the edge of the fish to mark the fillets. Starting at the head, score down the length of one side of the backbone. Slip the knife under the flesh at the top, keeping close to the bone. Cut the flesh away from me bone with a sawing motion the whole length of the fillet. Repeat on the other side of the backbone for the second fillet, then turn the fish over and repeat the process for two more fillets.

How to Fillet a Flatfish

Flatfish, such as sole and flounder, are usually cut into four fillets, two on either side of the central bones. The filleting technique is quite similar to that used for round fish.

How to Fillet a Flatfish-tips-How to Fillet a Fish

STEP 1: With the point of a filleting knife, cut around the edge of the fish to outline the shape of the fillets. With the point of the knife, cut the fish to the bone in a semicircle behind the head.
“Hold fish steady to cut accurately with other hand.Be sure filleting knife is sharp”

How to Fillet a Flatfish-tips-step by step

STEP 2: Cut through to the bone, along the spine at the center of the fish, in a straight line from head to tail.

How to Fillet a Flatfish-tips-How to Fillet a Fish step 3

STEP 3: Keeping the knife almost flat, slip the blade between the flesh and the rib bones and cut away the fillet, using a stroking motion.

How to Fillet a Flatfish-tips-How to Fillet a Fish step 4

STEP 4: Continue cutting until the fillet and flesh lying along the fins are detached with the skin in one piece. Turn the fish around and slip the knife under the flesh of the second fillet. Detach the fillet from the bones as for the first fillet.

How to Fillet a Flatfish-tips-How to Fillet a Fish step 5

STEP 5: Turn the fish over and repeat the process on the other side. If the fish heads and bones are to be used to make stock, wash them thoroughly under cold water.
“Lift flesh away as you stroke knife along bones. Keep blade as flat as possible.”

How to Skin a Fish


STEP 1: Lay the fillet skin-side down on the work surface and slip the knife between the fish and skin at the narrow end. Begin working the knife along the length of the fillet, using a light sawing motion to free the flesh from the skin.


STEP 2: To hold the skin firm while you work, hold it against the work surface, using kitchen paper to give you a good grip.

How to Trim a Fish

When serving fish whole, trim the fins with kitchen scissors so they do not interfere with serving, and cut the tail into a “V” shape.


STEP 1: Cut the fins from both sides of the fish, then from its belly.


STEP 2: Turn the fish over and cut the fins from along the back of the fish.


STEP 3: Cut a triangle from the tail of the fish to make a neat “V” in the tail.