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How to Fillet a Fish

How to Fillet a Fish

Filleting fish is an art form. But it shouldn’t take a lifetime to master. After all, the real art is in catching and preparing fresh fish for a delish meal. Whether you’re a weekend angler, or prefer your catch fresh from the local fish market, you can easily master filleting fish with the right knife and these 3 simple steps.

  • Sharpen your knife with a CHICAGO CUTLERY® MAGNASHARP™ KNIFE SHARPENER or the honing steel included in your knife set.
  • Be sure your catch is fresh...keep fish cool after catching and clean immediately.
  • Place your cutting board on a damp cloth or paper towel to keep it from sliding on the counter or tabletop.

Select a sharp knife with a long, thin blade that has some flex to it. If you’re a fisherman who regularly fillets your catch, you probably already have a specialty knife just for the task. For the rest of us, there is a good chance you have a thin-bladed knife in your Chicago Cutlery block set or knife drawer that will do the trick. We selected a 6-inch boning knife from the CHICAGO CUTLERY® INSIGNIA® STEEL 18-PC BLOCK SET, which is perfect for this task. The block has a built-in sharpener and the blade is made of high-carbon stainless steel with a Taper Grind® edge, which is extremely sharp for precision cutting.


Remove Fillet from Fish

For demonstration sake, let’s assume you selected a whole fish from the market that has been cleaned, but not filleted. Start by removing one side from the fish, and repeat for the other side using these steps.

  • Lay the fish on a large cutting board. This gives you plenty of room to work. We used a CHICAGO CUTLERY® WOODWORKS® BAMBOO 14" X 20" CUTTING BOARD because it’s large and easy to clean. For even easier cleanup, lay newspaper or paper towel on top of the cutting board.
  • Make your first cut just behind the pectoral fin on one side. Cut on a slight angle toward the head, with just enough pressure to feel when you reach the backbone.
  • While securely holding the head, turn the knife sharply toward the tail and carefully cut along the backbone, using it as a guide for your knife. Apply light pressure so you don’t cut through the backbone. If the knife is sharp, the cuts will be smooth and easy.
  • Remove the entire fillet from the fish and repeat on the other side. Discard the rest of the fish.


Removing Skin 


Now remove the flesh from the skin of the fish. It may sound difficult, but if your knife is sharp, it will become easy with a practice.

  • Turn the fillet so you are cutting from the tail end.
  • Angle the knife blade nearly parallel to the cutting board, and lightly cut until the knife blade is between the flesh and the skin.
  • Cut from the tail using long, smooth strokes until you can completely remove from the meat from the skin.
  • Repeat these steps for the second fillet.


Fine Cuts

The final step to creating a boneless fish fillet is removing rib bones.

  • Feel for the rib bones on the inside of the fillet.
  • Once located, cut on an angle as close as possible to the bones to remove them. Again, the bones will guide your knife if you use light pressure and smooth strokes.
  • Repeat these steps for your other fillet.
  • Rinse in cold water, feeling for any bones that may have been missed and cut them away if found. Pat dry before preparing for cooking.

That’s it! Two beautiful fillets ready for the fry pan, oven or grill. The choice is yours...and now that you’ve mastered filleting fish, you can make it more often!


  • When filleting fresh-caught fish, the same steps can be used, but you’ll have to work around the insides of the fish. Cut each fillet away in the same manner, being careful not to cut into the internal cavity holding organs.
  • Some fish, such as game fish like northern pike (yes, they are delicious), have challenging internal bone structures that require special fillet methods. There are many online tutorials for filleting specific fish species.
  • Fish should be filleted as fresh and humanely as possible. Fillet immediately after fish are caught. If you can’t, keep fish cold on ice or in cold water until you return to land for immediate cleaning.
  • Fish markets pride themselves on freshness. If you’re not sure when a fish on display was caught, just ask. The fresher the better!

NOTE: Always be cautious when eating fish, as bones are sometimes hard to find or see when cleaning. Eat at your own risk.