How to Clean a Fish

Fish are a delicious treat, but they can be slippery, slimy and difficult to get into your mouth safely. Most fish have a top, dorsal fin that is sharp with spines or a ridge. This fin is often collapsible against the fish’s body. Smooth the dorsal fin against the fish’s back by starting at the head and folding the spines down and away from your hand as you move towards the tail. Be aware of any stinging appendages or whiskers, or external parasites that may latch onto you instead of the gasping, dying fish.

Fish belly split open.
1. bladder, 2. gonads, 3. kidneys, 4. liver.

Once you have mastered a good grip on your next meal, you must remove the scales and viscera. Remove the scales by scraping your knife or a stiff straight-edge against their grain. When all of the scales have been removed and rinsed from your hands, you may cut open the fish’s belly by making an incision through the skin, into the abdomen, from the spot directly between the gills, all the way down to the waste-release hole.

Without splicing your fingers on the pliable but sharp rib cage of the animal, run two or three fingers down the inside of the fish, scooping out the lungs, stomach and intestines, without rupturing them and spreading filth. Don’t forget to scrape away the prominent blood vessel that sometimes clings to the spine of the fish. If you have fresh, drinkable water nearby, rinse the fish as thoroughly as is prudent. Do not reuse the water that the fish was rinsed in.

Fish guts and heads.

You may find it desirable to de-skin, de-bone or de-fin your fish while it is still raw. It is far easier to remove the skin and bones of the fish after you have cooked it, but if you are making stew or another dish that excludes these undesirables, you will need a sharp knife. To remove the top fin before cooking, simply make a cut along each side of the fin, grip it with gloves, a rag or pliers and pull.

To remove the bones, starting just bellow the head, shimmy the cutting edge along the inside of the cleaned and gutted fish, down the spine, separating the ribs from the vertebrae. After the spine is disconnected from the halved fish fillets, you must use your knife, fingers or pliers to carefully feel for and remove all of the tiny, transluscent rib bones that could choke you to death.

Plate of raw cod tongues.

To de-skin a raw fish, place the skin side down, touching your cutting surface. Beginning at the tail end with your sharp knife, find the borderland between the meat and the skin. Pull the skin taut as you slide the blade between the two, separating them with as little meat left on the skin as possible. You need as many calories and as much protein as you can get without having to pick stewed skin out of your teeth.

Never cook or eat raw meat that looks brown, yellow or green before cooking. Observe a healthy shade before you add any morsels to your recipes.

Cook your fish until it is hot and fluffy or flaky.

If you cannot cook and eat your fish right away, it is necessary to preserve the meat as quickly as possible. Using a salt solution and/or smoke, dry the fish in thin strips that can be easily re-hydrated for future use.

Plate of fried cod tongues.

 

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