Last Updated on June 28, 2022 by Share My Kitchen
Even the most skilled home cooks can make mistakes when it comes to preparing fish. It is often easier to buy fish pre-prepared, so the art of preparing it at home has been forgotten a bit. This is especially true when it comes down to decaling or gutting. However, you can save money by buying whole fish, and preparing them yourself. It will also give you more flexibility, and gives you fresher, tastier produce to make your meal with.
The simplest tasks, such as filleting flat fish, peeling prawns, or removing the skin from cod loins, are essential skills that every home chef should have. However, being able to open oysters, scallops, and clams, remove the meat from crabs and lobsters, and clean a whole squid is sure to earn you brownie points with fellow foodies. You’ll be a fish guru quickly thanks to these helpful guides that cover all aspects of the process. This also means that if you want to go fishing, crabbing, or buy super-fresh produce right off the boat, you will know exactly what you should do once you bring it back home.
How to Gut a Fish
The fish’s guts are not edible, and it must be removed before being cooked. This is not difficult, but if you find yourself a bit squeamish, ask your fishmonger to remove them for you. To protect your hands when you do this task, it is best to use latex gloves. It is also important to wash the fish immediately after it has been gutted.
- First, scrape both sides of the fish using the back of a knife to remove the scales.
- Make an incision at the tail end of the belly of the fish, then cut through the skin until you reach the head.
- You should be able pull the guts, roe, and gills out easily.
- Then, use cold water to rinse the fish’s insides until the water runs clear.
- Use kitchen paper to dry the fish, then remove the fins.
It will make it less messy and easier to clean up if you scale the fish in an open bin bag.
How to Scale a Fish
Scaling whole fish is needed as scales are rather unpleasant to have in your meal. Don’t worry, your fishmonger will be more than happy to scale and gut your fish for you. However, it is also a satisfying and easy technique that you can master at home.
It can be messy to remove scales so place the fish in a plastic bag to catch the scales.
- Use a fish scaler, or the back of a knife.
- Keep the fish steady by the tail. Then, use the knife to scrape from the tail to the head, removing the scales in one stroking motion. The scales should flake off easily.
- Finally, wash the fish thoroughly.
How to Skin a Fillet of Fish
If you ask your fishmonger, they will remove the skin from fish fillets. However, it is a wonderful technique that you can learn at home.
- First, put the fillet onto a clean, dry cutting board
- Then, hold the fillet at its tail end, and slide the knife between skin and flesh.
- Keep the blade flat against the cutting board, and push the knife along the fillet, slicing as needed until you reach the top.
- Do this process away from you in order to avoid injuries.
- Don’t forget to use a sharp knife with a flexible edge.
- For a better grip, make sure that the fish is clean and dry before you skin it.
How to Fillet a Flat Fish
Flat fish usually found at the fishmonger are plaice, lemon sole, brill, and the expensive turbot. Flat fish have four fillets, whereas a round fish only has two.
To get as close as possible to the bone, always use a sharp, flexible knife.
- Start by making an incision below the head with the point side of the knife. Then, cut towards the backbone, and continue cutting down the length and through the tail.
- To separate the fillet, make a diagonal cut under the head from the backbone.
- Insert the point of the knife below the head to separate the flesh from the bones, then slide the knife along the bone with a long, gentle stroking motion.
- Lift the fillet from the middle while you continue the stroking motion, cutting away from you, to slice off the first fillet. You should be able hear and feel the knife against the bones.
- Next, turn the fish over and repeat the process on the other side of the backbone to get the second fillet. Cut a diagonal line under the head, then insert the point of the knife from the tail end, and slowly follow along the bone line to remove the fillet.
- Flip the fish and do the same thing on the opposite side. Cut along the backbone and under the head.
- Use the stroking motions along the each side of the backbone to get the third and fourth fillets.
- Then, to tidy up the fillets, trim the edges. These fillets can now be skinned or cooked as desired.
How to Fillet a Round Fish
Round fish include cod, haddock, sea bass, and mackerel. The size of your fish will determine the size of the knife you need. A larger fish requires a longer blade. You can have two fillets from a round fish, which will yield 1 or 2 portions, depending on its size.
Before you start, ensure that your fish have been properly scaled and gutted. If you prefer to not clean up, ask your fishmonger. It is true that scaling fish can be messy.
- First, remove the tail and head.
- Then, hold the fish tightly on a cutting board, and run the knife along the backbone, from head to tail.
- Keep as close to the bone as possible, and continue the stroking motion until you reach the opposite side of the fish to remove the fillet.
- Repeat the steps on the opposite side of the fish.
How to Fillet a Mackerel
Mackerel tastes great in all forms. It’s a healthy, affordable fish that packs a lot of flavor. It is possible to transform this simple species into a restaurant-quality fish by cooking it beautifully. This step-by-step guide will show you how to fillet a mackerel perfectly.
- Keep the knife parallel to the curves of the gills, then make an incision behind the pectoral fin until the knife reaches the backbone.
- Then, turn the fish over and repeat the process on the opposite side.
- Turn the fish on its belly, and cut down through the backbone to remove the head.
- Then, run the knife along the side of your backbone. Remember to cut as close to the backbone as possible.
- Use sweeping motions to cut the fillet, keeping as close to the backbone as possible, and hold the knife parallel to the board.
- Place the fillet aside, and turn the fish over. Then, cut through the skin near the backbone to use it as a guide.
- Cut the fillet away from the backbone as you did previously, keeping the knife parallel with the board.
- Then, use tweezers to carefully remove the pin-bones in the middle of the fillets
- Remove any excess skin from the fillet, and rinse gently with cold water. Dry the fish, then it is ready to be cooked.
How to Remove the Skin From Monkfish Tails
Monkfish has two types of skin covering its tail: the upper layer is darker; the lower one is lighter. The fishmongers remove the latter part usually before they sell the tail. The skin color depends on its habitat. A lighter color indicates a sandy or farmed habitat, while a darker color is indicative of a pebbled, stony habitat. Keep in mind that it is important to remove the dark skin before you eat, while the lighter skin can be crisped and cooked.
- Insert a small knife between the flesh and skin at the top of the fish. Then, move the knife slowly around the side of the fish, and release the skin.
- Once you have enough skin to grab, pull the skin off with one hand and hold the monkfish tail using the other. Try to pull the skin off in one go.
- Then, pull out any hard sinew with your fingers from the thin tail end. Now, the monkfish can be cooked.
How to Clean and Prepare Squid
You must remove the quill and beak from the squid before you can cook it. Also, ensure that the squid is completely fresh prior to cooking. It should not have any odor.
- 1 squid
- First, wash the squid well, and pull the tentacles from the body to remove them.
- Take out the entrails with the clear quill from inside the body.
- Then, remove the purple membrane from the outside of your body, and cut the fins with a sharp knife.
- Going back to the tentacles, cut the head and squeeze it to remove the beak.
How to Section an Octopus
The process of sectioning an octopus is the same as any cephalopods, like squid or cuttlefish. Slowly cooking octopus should help to tenderize the hard flesh, and prevent it from becoming too chewy.
- Remove the body from the tentacles.
- Then, turn the head inside out, and take out everything inside. If necessary, use a sharp knife to remove the entrails, then rinse thoroughly.
- Next, cut the beak from the tentacles, and remove the eyes.
- Finally, section the tentacles, and wash all parts thoroughly.
How to Prepare Lobster Claws
To ensure that your lobster is freshest possible, it is best to buy a live lobster. You will need to quickly and gently drive a knife between its eyes, splitting the head in half, to humanely kill the lobster. This will instantly kill it.
It takes some effort to remove the claw meat, but the meat is much more tender and sweeter than the tail meat. You can crack the claws with a lobster cracker, but don’t crush it completely as this could damage the chances that the claw meat will come out intact.
- Put the lobster on a cutting board. Then, get a large, sharp knife and place the pointed end on the head, facing towards the eyes.
- Next, twist off the tail and claws from the main body, and put in a sealed bag. Then, cook for 20-25 minutes in a large saucepan or water bath at 50°C.
- Once the shell is cooked and cold enough to handle, gently pull the lower pincer away from the shell. The cartilage should pop out.
- Place the claw’s main portion on the edge of the board. Then, use your knife to crack the shell. Turn over and do it again.
- The shell should come off with a twist of a knife, giving you an intact claw.
- Now, the claws can be used for cooking.
Don’t throw away the shows from the claws. These can still be used for making shellfish stock.
How to Remove Meat from a Lobster
It takes a bit of patience and practice to remove meat from a lobster. You can also make a delicious shellfish stock, or bisque from the shells.
- First, twist off the claws, then twist off the tail.
- Turn the tail around, and uncoil it.
- Use a pair of scissors to cut through the underside.
- Then, pull the tail apart and get the meat.
- Cleanse off any green tomalley
- Use the back of a heavy knife to break open the claws.
- If you have to, use a lobster pin to take out the meat.
How to Remove Meat from a Crab
There are two types of meat that you can find in a crab: white and brown. The crab’s body and claws contain the milder white meat, while the main shell contains the more rich brown meat.
After the crab has been cooked, remove from the water and let it cool completely.
- Place the crab on its back, and twist the claws and legs off.
- Hold the shell firmly, and push part of the body out using your thumbs.
- Take off the ‘dead men’s fingers.’ These are hard and inedible, and should be thrown out
- Take out the brown meat and set it aside.
- Then, cut the body section in half. It is important not to break the cartilage when doing this as this will make it difficult to remove later. Then, carefully remove the white meat using a spoon or lobster pick.
- Crack open the legs, and get the meat out using a lobster pick.
- Twist apart the claw sections and use the end of a heavy knife to break the claws. Make sure to use just enough pressure to crack the shell when doing this. Do not smash into the pieces as this will make the chances of bits of shell getting into the dish. Then, use a spoon or a lobster pick to remove the meat.
- Finally, pick through the crab to remove any stray shells. To ensure that you don’t get any nasty shocks when eating the crab, it is worth repeating this process several times.
How to Peel Prawns
Prawns are versatile. You can cook them with or without their shells, but most recipes require that they be removed. Don’ worry, this is a simple process that you can learn. It is easier to peel larger prawns so make sure you practice with these first. Also, wash them thoroughly before you use them.
- Hold the body of the prawn with one hand, then twist off the head with the other.
- Turn the prawn over, and pull the shell along the length of the belly. Work from the head to the tail, removing any shell segments as you go.
- Make sure that all shell excess is removed from the body.
How to Open an Oyster
The process of opening an oyster, also called shucking, is best done just before eating to preserve the freshness of an oyster. To practice this technique, wrap your hand with a towel and hold the oyster down firmly. Remember to use shucking knives to open oysters. They have a dull point and a thick blade, so they won’t snap when you open the hinge.
- Protect your hand with a thick cloth, then insert the knife into the shell’s ‘hinge.’
- Twist the knife to pry open the shell, and cut under the oyster to release it.
How to Prepare Mussels
Mussels must be thoroughly cleaned and checked before being eaten to avoid getting a taste of sand.
- You should check if the mussels are closed, and any open shells should close when you tap them gently. If they don’t close, throw them away. Any broken shells should also be thrown away
- To remove any excess sand, place the mussels in a colander and run them under cold water.
- Then, scrub the shells with a scourer to remove any barnacles attached.
- Take off any ‘beards’ attached to the side or the mussel. This is the brown tag that looks like seaweed sticking out from the shell.
- Now, the mussels can be prepared for cooking.
How to Remove Cooked Mussels from Their Shells
You may need to remove mussels from their shells for some recipes, especially if they are part of a larger dish. It is easy to extract the mussels for this purpose if you have the right knowledge.
- After the mussels have been cooked, strain them and let cool.
- Then, throw away any mussels that did not open during the cooking process.
- Use your fingers to gently lift each mussel from its shell. They should come away easily.
- Cover them properly and keep in the refrigerator until needed.
- You can reserve the cooking liquid from the mussels to use as a base for a rich sauce.
- When using the mussels for the finished dish, make sure to reheat the mussels gently and for a very short time since they are already cooked. Too much cooking will result in the fragile mussels becoming rubbery.
How to Open a Clam
While many recipes add clams in their shells directly to the pan, others just require raw, uncooked clam meat. To get the tender, sweet meat within clams, follow the guide below.
You’ll need to purge your clams of any grit or sand before you open them.
- Secure the clam to the board using a tea towel.
- Then, insert the knife on the underside of the top shell, and move around to release the muscle.
- Open the shell, and use the knife to remove the muscles underneath the clam. Keep as much liquid as possible.
How to Open a Scallop
If you are buying scallops in their shells, make sure they are still alive. They will be closed, or when they are tapped, they close. The shells of scallops that are not alive will stay open when they are tapped.
You should cover the shucked scallops with a damp tea towel, and keep them in the refrigerator for no more than 24 hours.
- First, hold the scallop firmly using your hand, with the flat side of the shell beside your thumb and the curved end next to your fingers. The shell’s tip should be directly on the work surface.
- Slide a knife into the shell, at its top. Then, twist the handle to break the hinge.
- To release the meat, slide the knife along the flat side of the shell.
- Then, open and use a spoon to remove the scallop from the other half of the shell. The scallop is attached by a white muscle, so cut this part and the rest can be removed easily.
- Now, remove the ‘skirt’ of the scallop. Hold the scallop in your hands, find the white muscle, and use your free thumb to slide between the muscle and the meat. Your thumb should slide around the scallop, making sure to not tear the flesh.
- Remove the skirt carefully from the scallop, then throw it away.
- To remove any remaining residue, wash the scallop in ice water.
- Put on a tea towel to dry.