Salmon has a special status as a quality fish, which can make filleting it seem more serious than it would with other fish. However, learning how to fillet salmon isn’t a big ordeal.
Of course, preparing such a beautiful fish requires attention. There are some distinct features, and you don’t want to waste any of the precious meat. So, getting all of the bones and organs out requires a proper technique.
Fortunately, there’s an easy and effective way to do it. It’s also a low-risk method with easy cuts that are good for beginners.
How to Fillet Salmon
There are a few different methods when learning how to fillet salmon. Some are super simple and very fast, but also quite wasteful. Others are thorough but far more technical and difficult to memorize.
As such, we’ve decided to focus on the most effective approach. Raise your hand if you think getting as much meat as possible with a few simple cuts is the ideal for how to fillet salmon. And get this: It will work for all similar fish types, such as trout and char. They all share the same general anatomy of salmon.
Using the Right Tool
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Filleting is all about fine cuts, so you need an appropriate knife. Since salmon can grow quite large, the ideal blade is a long one. Popular knives made explicitly for filleting fish tend to be around 8 inches.
Also, proper fish-filleting knives usually have a curve to them to get the cuts just right. We recommend using something like this. For something a bit cheaper but still high-quality, there’s also this Victorinox knife.
Using a knife such as these will make the task much more manageable and provide some wiggle room for error. And when you’re first learning, that grace is worth a lot.
Sure, a regular fishing knife can work well on smaller fish as long as the blade is around 5 inches or longer. However, it’s best to use a tool appropriately sized for the task.
Last but not least, a sharp blade is absolutely crucial. A dull knife will only give you frustration — and ruined fillets.
1. Removing the Unwanted Parts
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We may call them fruits of the sea, but fish have lots of parts that you don’t want to eat. Before we can extract those delicious fillets, we must prepare the fish.
You’ll find these parts on both the inside and the outside and even attached to the fillets themselves. We’ll take it step by step and remove them safely. So, let’s get chopping.
ON THE OUTSIDE
Salmon is a fish that you most often cook with its skin. Because of this, you must scale the fish. Thankfully, scaling salmon is very easy.
All you need to do is hold the salmon by its tail and scrape it with your knife. Long strokes from tail to head will remove them fast.
Next, you may want to get some fins out of the way if you intend to keep the skin on. The ones along the back and belly of the fish are the ones you want to remove for easy filleting. As for the tail and pectoral fins by the gills — you can leave those for now.
Now, the fins may be tougher than they look, so it’s easiest to cut them with a serrated knife. A plain-edge knife works also, but it’s just not as efficient.
OPEN THE FISH
Now, before we open the fish, rinse it in cold water to flush away any stray scales and impurities. Then, place the fish on one side and hold the tail with your free hand.
Next, gently insert the tip of your knife into the vent, which is between the tail and where the next fin was on the underside. You mustn’t go too deep since ruptured organs can ruin the meat. Bacteria and bile are not something you want in your fillets.
Now, cut along the belly to the space between the gills and the head. Remember, stay shallow and don’t use a sawing motion. If a smooth slice isn’t working, you need a sharper blade.
You can always follow a cut that’s too shallow with another cut, but you can’t undo a deep one. If you puncture something, rinse the salmon off quickly and make sure that all liquid flows out of it.
NOW FOR THE INSIDE
Now that the belly is open, we can finish gutting the fish, which is an integral part of how to fillet salmon. It’s as simple as holding it open, inserting a finger, and digging everything out in one piece. If the intestine sticks to the vent, use your knife at the opening.
The one thing that can be tricky to remove is the kidney line. So, we’ll get it later when it’s easier.
You may wonder why we kept the head and tail on the fish. Well, it actually provides easier handling, which means faster results and an easier time learning how to fillet salmon.
2. Cutting Your Salmon Fillets
Now for the main act of how to fillet salmon. You’re close to getting your first fillet.
Using the pectoral fin as a guide, it’s time to make the first cut of the fillet. Place your blade over the back above the fin and push it in until you feel the salmon’s backbone. Then, cut down along the side to just behind the same fin.
Again, you don’t want to cut into anything inside the fish. Also, severing the spine will make it slightly harder to get perfect fillets, so try to keep it intact for now.
If you did it right, you’ll be able to lift the flap of meat that contains the fillet slightly. It still sticks to the back and tail, but it should be separate from the head. Otherwise, cut a little deeper.
Keeping the knife in that same groove, angle it so that the blade’s edge faces the tail. Keep the blade against the spine and start cutting along the body toward the tail. Use a slight sawing motion to slice through the ribs with ease.
The further you stray from the spine, the less meat there will be on your fillet. So, try to keep your knife flush against it. When you reach the tail, slice through the skin right before the tail fin. You should now be able to lift your first fillet from the fish.
Next, repeat the process on the other side. You now have two fillets, but there are a few things left regarding how to fillet a salmon.
3. Cleaning up the Fillets
There are still a few things to remove. First, there’s the long, deep-red kidney line. Also, there are still bones in these salmon sides.
Thankfully, we can remove them all with one simple cut. Start with your knife slightly above the kidney line, gently cutting into the thick flesh behind it at an angle.
With repeated light strokes, make your way toward the belly, staying as close to the ribs as possible to avoid wasting meat. Light strokes close to the bone are generally how to fillet salmon properly.
The bones don’t go all the way to the belly. So, they’ll start popping out over your blade as you get closer. If you did this right, you have a very thin slice of salmon containing all the ribs.
Depending on how you cut your fillets, you may find stray pin bones toward the tail section of the salmon. The easiest way to get these is with needle-nosed pliers or tweezers.
Now, you can probably see that the flesh of the belly section is thinner and has a different color. It also tastes different. For a proper fillet, you must remove this meat. Plus, it’s so much thinner that evenly cooking the whole side is a big challenge.
However, this is not by any means bad meat. It’s excellent in soups or on its own. Or you can make delicious smoked salmon belly, which is probably the closest thing to fish bacon.
Similarly, there’s still some meat on the section with the spine. It’s actually some of the best meat on the salmon. It’s easy to scrape off with a knife or spoon, which gives it the nickname: “spoon meat.”
After rinsing the fillets, they’re good to go. Applying salt before rinsing helps to remove any impurities on the flesh.
Enjoy Your Fresh Salmon Fillets
There you have it. That’s how to fillet salmon easily without wasting parts of the fish. Keep in mind that it may take a few tries to get this technique just right.
Once you master the art of how to fillet salmon this way, you can do it very quickly. Since there are only a few cuts to make, there’s very little that can go wrong. As long as you stay clear of the organs when you cut, you’ll get great fillets every time.
Plus, knowing how to fillet salmon this way also means you know how to fillet a variety of similar fish such as graylings, trout, and whitefish. Whether you want a quick fresh fillet to cook over a fire by the river, or you want to make the most of your salmon in the kitchen, this is the way to go.
Do you have any tips to share about how to fillet a salmon? Share your experience in the comments section.
Featured Image: Image via Pexels