How to Fillet a Salmon

Dec 13, 2011 by     No Comments    Posted under: Cooking 101

So many people are intimidated with filleting fish.  But it really is simple to do and is much less expensive than buying pre-cut salmon fillets.  In fact, when I bought the Chinook salmon used in this post, it was half as much money per pound for the whole (guts and head removed) than the fillets on their own.  I have a hard time believing that the bones and fins weigh so much as to justify the added expense.  So sharpen your knife, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to cut some fish!

Purchase a Whole Fish to Fillet

Whole Chinook Salmon from Grocer

Whole Chinook Salmon from Grocer

Some stores will sell you the whole fish, with the head on.  I find these fun.  But most stores sell “whole” salmon with the guts and heads already removed.  Look for one that has bright colored gills (not gray) and eyes that are clear (not milky).  This indicates a fresh fish.  Wild salmon is seasonal with the different breed runs (when they leave the ocean and swim into fresh water to spawn).  Two of my favorites are Chinook and Sockeye.  Both are bright orange/red in color and taste exceptional.  One of these fish will feed 6-8 people.

Where to Start When Filleting a Salmon

Prepare to Filet Salmon

Prepare to Filet Salmon

First, cut into the fish along the collar.  The collar is the bone that runs along the gills by the front fin.  Cut behind the fin all the way down to the bones.

Second, insert your knife into the back and cut the length of the fish right along the bone line.  If you’re not sure where the bone line is, you can run your fingers along the back of the fish and feel it through the skin.  It runs right along the top of the fish in line with the dorsal fin.

Feel for Bones with Fingers when Filleting Fish

Feel for Bones with Fingers when Filleting Fish

Cut Along Back Bones to Fillet Salmon

Cut Along Back Bones to Fillet Salmon

Run your knife down and completely through the top and bottom of the fish at the tail end.  Come back up the front end of the fish and the cut through the rib bones while keeping your knife flat against the back bones and previous cut.  This will remove the fillet completely from the fish carcass.  Place this fillet, skin side down, on your cutting board.

Cut Through Salmon Rib Bones and Peel off Fillet

Cut Through Salmon Rib Bones and Peel off Fillet

Remove Inner Lining and Bones and Trim off Fin to Fillet Salmon

Remove Inner Lining and Bones and Trim off Fin to Fillet Salmon

How to Remove the Pin Bones from a Salmon Fillet

Now that you have a fillet, you’ll need to cut off the gut lining and rib/pin bones.  Remove the lining by carefully running your knife, flat side against the fillet flesh, between the lining and the flesh.  Keep your fingers flat against the lining so as to not cut them.  Once removed, discard.  Cut off the bottom fin and trim as you see fit.

Remove the pin bones by running your knife edge along the fillet, starting from the head to the tail.  This will raise the bones so you can easily find them.  They only run down about 2/3rds of the fish.  Remove with a pair of pliers, tweezers, or fish tweezers designed specifically for this purpose.  Pull the bones out at the angle in which they grew so as to prevent tearing the delicate salmon flesh, or at least reducing the tears significantly.  Run your fingers across the fillet to make sure that you have removed them all.  Removing the pin bones isn’t completely necessary of course, but it sure makes for more pleasant eating.

Remove Pin Bones from Salmon Fillet

Remove Pin Bones from Salmon Fillet

How to Fillet the Second Half of Your Salmon

Now that you have one fillet removed, it’s time to tackle the other half.  This really is pretty easy to do, as all you have to do is cut off the bones which are already exposed.  Simply run your knife under them and pull up the spine as you do so.  Away it goes!  Cut through the rib bones like before, and then remove them with your pliers/tweezers like before.  Cut off the gut lining and bottom fin like before.  Walla!  A perfect salmon fillet.

Remove Salmon Skin or Leave it on

This really is a personal preference.  I like mine on, but others like to take it off.  Your call.  But if you want to remove them, it’s very easy to do.  Just cut into the flesh at the tail end of your fillet, leaving a small piece of flesh that will help you in your grip.  Run the knife along the skin between it and the flesh.  Be careful that your knife is right against the skin and that you’re not leaving flesh behind.  You can peel the flesh back to check every now and then.  Once about halfway down the length of the fillet, you can start pulling the skin while kind of rocking it back and forth.  This will make the skin do the work rather than your knife.  Kind of cool and works really well.  Done.  Now cook your salmon and eat it!

The Bald Gourmet Fillets Salmon For Cooking at Home.

 

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I'm Jothan Yeager and I am The Bald Gourmet. After years of experimenting in my kitchen, creating delicious food and eating at amazing places around the world, I wanted a place to share my experiences with everyone. Thus the Bald Gourmet was born. I hope to open the doors of great food and great cooking to you, to inspire you to reach beyond prepared boxed meals, and to teach you of a world of deliciousness that has brought joy to me and those around me. Please enjoy the adventure which is The Bald Gourmet and share it with those you love.