There are various ways to clean a fish but you should always begin by rinsing the fish under cold running water first of all. Next cut the fins off each side and cut the fish from the gills to the backbone, using a sharp knife. Never use a dull knife, electric knife or serrated knife when preparing fish because these will tear the fillet instead of slicing cleanly.
Snap and pull on the head and the entrails will come away with the head. Cut the tail off where it joins the body. Cut along the belly from the vent to the gills and scrape along the inside of the fish to remove the blood vein and the reddish brown kidney line. It might be easier to use a spoon for this. Rinse the fish again in cold water. If you take the skin off, the dorsal fin will come off too.
Descaling a Fish
Not all fish need to be descaled but some do. Catfish and eels do not have scales. Lay the fish flat and brush a knife up it, using short strokes, from the tail to the head. If the scales are flat and come up easily, you need to take them off. Fish like flounder have tiny scales which are horrible to get in your mouth when you eat them but fiddly to remove so you will need patience to descale such a fish properly.
Keep brushing the scales off with the knife until they are all gone, then flip the fish over, and do the other side. If you are planning to skin the fish before you cook it you do not need to descale it because the scales will come off with the skin.
Deboning a Fish
You can debone your fish before or after cooking it. It is easier to debone cooked fish but a lot of people do not like to pick bones out of their fish while they are eating it. To debone a fish, you need to gut and rinse the fish well. Put it on its side and cut straight down the fish behind the gills, using a sharp knife, until the blade touches the backbone. Rotate the knife so the blade is flat against the backbone, parallel to the cutting board and the sharp point is toward the tail.
Saw the fish in a gentle back and forth motion and cut along the backbone to the tail, underneath the fillet. Turn the fish over and do the other side. Pull the backbone out. Cut the rib cage bones out of the fillet with a pair of tweezers or feel for them with your fingers and pull them out.
If you are not comfortable with the idea of cleaning your own fish, most fish are available cut into filets or steaks or you can ask your fishmonger to do it. If you catch your own fish or receive one as a gift though, knowing how to clean and debone it is very useful. You can bury the head, tail and guts from the fish in the garden because they contain nutrients which are beneficial for the plants.
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