Subscribe to our weekly
How to Fillet a Salmon
If you’ve got yourself a whole, gutted fish you’d like to fillet, it’s really not that difficult of a procedure to follow. The hard part is how well you cut the fish, but you’ll only get better with practice. If you’ve just got a large, fresh piece of salmon with skin, you can skip down to the last section and get down to skinning and slicing.
Removing the Meat from the Fish
When cutting the meat straight off the fish, you’ll need a very sharp knife and a firm hand. The trick is cutting off the flesh well enough to get all the good meat off the fish. It may be a good idea to start slow until you get a hang of it.
First, scale the fish using a sharp knife swiped against the grain of the scales. If you do this in water, it will keep the scales from flying everywhere and is still just as effective; just don’t press too hard or you’ll bruise the fish. If you’d rather go an easier route, a fish scaler might be more your thing.
Once the fish is scaled, position your sharp knife a ways behind the gill and cut straight down.
Cut down to the spine and the turn your knife to cut lengthwise down the fish with your knife parallel to the spine. Use the spine as your guide and saw all the way down to the tail and try and cut off as much meat as possible.
Cut off the bottom and top of the fillet where there is more undesirable meat. You don’t need to cut too much off the top, but the bottom has the fat of the fish, which is—surprisingly—not that great to eat. Just be sure that the fins are not on your fillets of fish.
Flip the fish over and do the same thing on the other side of the fish, cutting a clean piece from the fish.
You should now have two large pieces of the fish with skin. If you’d like you can cut the flesh into fatter pieces now and keep the skin on. Some prefer to cook salmon with the skin on, but if not, then you’ll need to carefully remove the skin as to get as much meat as possible.
If you’d like to pull the pin bones from the fish, grab a pair of clean, needle-nosed pliers or tweezers and a knife. The bones tend to be most prominent in the thickest part of the fish towards the middle.
Run the back of your knife along the piece of fish, starting at the head. The bones should stick up through the flesh, making it easier to spot them.
You can then use fishbone tweezers, regular tweezers or needle-nosed pliers to pull out the bones.
Pull them out at a forty-five degree angle towards the head to make it a little easier to remove.
You should now have a boneless hunk of flesh on your hands. You could double check to be sure you got all the bones, since their tiny size makes it easy to miss one or two.
Removing the Skin and Cutting to Pieces
Once the fish has been cut and deboned, you may want to skin the flesh and cut it into suitable pieces for dinner. It’s not too difficult to do, just follow these steps:
Get a good pair of clean vice grips (I have a pair that I use for various things in the kitchen exclusively). Grip the salmon fillet by the tail end with the vice grips. This gives you a solid grip on the fish. You can simply use your fingers, but it’s more difficult and slippery.
Put the salmon skin-down on a cutting board.
Position the knife where the skin meets the flesh of the fillet. Angle the fillet knife slightly downward toward the flesh, and, using a gentle sawing motion, cut between the skin and the meat. Pull slightly on the skin as you slice with the knife.
Hold the knife flat and against the fish and cut at a diagonal angle through the flesh. The goal is to get the cut to be as flat as possible so there’s an even, flat surface to cook.
After all that work of cutting, deboning and skinning, your salmon is ready to cook and serve. It may seem hard at first, but the more you handle the extra tasks of preparing salmon, the faster and easier it will get. Practice makes perfect.