There is something extremely rewarding about a beautiful filet of salmon. I get great pleasure from folding the filet back from the carcass and seeing a smooth cut with minimal meat left on the carcass. Today I’m going to show you how it’s done.
The number one thing you need is a good, sharp filet knife. Depending on how many fish you have to filet, you may need to either have an additional knife or take a break to sharpen. The scales will dull your knife in a hurry.
I always skin each filet. If you want to do this, you’ll need a pair of pliers and a chopping knife that’s not too sharp. Having a cutting board with a groove you can anchor to is also helpful, but not required.
Now that you have your tools collected, let’s get started!
Give your fish a good rinse. When I’m processing the fish we get while dip-netting, there are so many that I usually process them outside (this year I even did it right in the boat!). If you’re outside you can use a garden hose and just spray them off. Otherwise, just use the sink. Rinsing the fish off will help take off some of the slime. Getting a good filet is so much easier when the fish is not sliding around on you!
Place the salmon with it’s back toward you (belly facing away) on your cutting surface. You’ll be making your first cut just behind the gills. Be careful not to cut too deep or you will puncture the gut cavity. You want to cut until you get to the backbone. Your cut should reach just about halfway into the back of the fish.
With the tip of your knife running into the spine, cut through the back of the salmon. Keep your cut just above the fin. When you get past the fin and the fish gets narrower, put your knife all the way through to the belly and cut the remaining section off the spine. *Be sure that your knife is on the top of the spine when making this cut.*
Now you will go back to the beginning of the cut and cut through the pin bones, staying on top of the spine. Continue cutting the filet off the ribs, keeping your knife pressed down gently. The less cuts that you make, the smoother your filet will be. Lift the filet as you work so you can observe your progress. The goal is to leave as little of the meat as possible on the bones.
Push the front fin out of the way with your knife and extend the cut a little more into the belly. You will be removing the filet by slicing through the belly, around the fins.
Repeat these steps for the other side. The second side is generally a bit more difficult than the first, just because the fish is much more uneven at this point.
If you want to keep the belly meat (we use it for our smoked salmon), cut it off of the gut cavity at this point. I only keep the section from the beginning of the filleted part to just behind the set of double fins. I don’t keep any other parts of the fish (unless there are little pieces of meat that were left behind during the filleting…those are great to take off and use for Blackened Salmon).
I don’t like to keep any skin on my fish, so we end up skinning all the fillets. (If you don’t plan on skinning the fillets, be sure to properly scale the fish before beginning. I must admit that I let my husband (the pro) do this part. I do have photos and understand the concept though.) 🙂
Grab the tail section of the filet with the pliers (it’s helpful to have a cutting board to clamp onto). Cut through the filet meat until you reach the skin. Holding your knife at an angle and keeping it pressed down, use a scraping motion to separate the skin from the meat. You should be left with a little piece of skin with minimal meat (We have yet to figure out what we could do with the skins. Purses? Belts? Or is that just plain creepy?).
Be sure to rinse the fillets well before freezing or canning (watch for a follow up post on my salmon canning process). Even though this how-to is for filleting salmon, I’m sure it would work for any fish.
Let me know in the comments if you found this article helpful and be sure to share it on social media!