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This title might be deceiving. You know I cook a lot, from lazyass to the it-will-take-all-day kind. But fish is something I've never explored much. As I mentioned last week, something about the eyes, the mouth, and the flesh freaks me out. In Japan, where fish supply is abundant, most people buy fish whole, and cut it up at home. I've seen my mother doing this since I was a kid. I've never gone close to the murder scene because of all the blood and guts. Not only you can buy fish --intestines and all-- at any fish monger, my people bring back very fresh fish from the early morning hours of fish hunting.

Once when I was home in Japan, my brother asked me if I wanted to have really good squid sashimi, and I said hell yeah! Next morning when I woke up, my brother was at the kitchen sink, busy gutting squids that he had just fished a couple of hours ago (like 4am). It was the best of the best squid I've ever had. The thing was just swimming in the ocean until a couple of hours ago!

Now the time has come for me to tackle on this whole new level of culinary adventure. I am a fillet-a-fish virgin. Here in the U.S., almost all fish are already filleted, and ready to be cooked. Why bother to get the whole thing? Yes it's cheaper since all the labor is on me, but is it really worth it?

So I went to Chinatown and got a pretty fresh looking snapper. I asked for it to be scaled since I assumed that the aftermath would be worse than Kayoko's plum-chutney-making-cleanup.

Hello Mr. Snapper.


Luckily it was already gutted, so no need for the insert-a-knife-into-his-anus-and-cut-through-his-stomach business.


As everyone says, it's very important to get fish that has clear eyes. If they are cloudy, that means it is old, and literally fishy.

With my half-ass research on how to fillet fish, I turned on my surgeon mindset, and started the operation.

First, you cut right next to the neck or whatever the part is where body and head separate. Push it until you hit bone. It felt very weird. Although I've never stubbed a human, this might be how it feels. Reaching the bone and feeling it through the knife was something I've never experienced using a knife. A little chill ran through the back of my neck.


For amateurs like me, it's easy to place a cut near the tail, so I did.


Along with the bones in the middle, you cut the meat from the open part on the stomach side.


Cut through to the tail.


Then turn the thing around, and cut through the upper side.  You can tell I am fucking up so badly, since the flesh should look intact, but mine isn't.


One side done. Move to the other side.


Do the same on the other side. You can make fish stock out of carcass, especially since there is still a lot of meat near the bone left, where I couldn't get to. One of the instructions said to cut the head into half to make a really good soup. I toyed with the idea, and pulled the mouth open, and that's when I screamed. By opening the mouth, the whole head moved, as if it were still alive. Taking that as a cue, I dumped the guy into the trash.  Sorry Fish God, I am a fillet-a-fish virgin, and couldn't handle any more.


There are still a bunch of bones on the lower left side on the pic below.  So you slice them and separate them apart.


Looks really bad, doesn't it?  I am embarrassed to show this.  They don't look like fish fillet you get from a fish monger at all.


What I learned from this experience is that I should just buy fillets. Out of just about two pounds of fish, I think the fillet was basically less than a pound. Snapper fillets are about $11 a pound, and two pounds of the whole fish was about $11. Time and grossness factored in, buying fillets are just better.

I also have a new respect for sushi chefs. When you sit at a counter, don't they just cut open the fish like it's a piece of vegetable? They are trained in fish cutting, and it's not easy to master it, I now fully realized. Also, I respect the guys at the Lobster House at Chelsea market. They fillet fish like pros.

When I fail something, I usually try again and again until I succeed, but I don't think I will revisit this adventure.

I know why I am not a surgeon. Couldn't you imagine me in the OR, screaming at the sight of a beating heart and passing out over the blood?
Column: ReCPY

1 comment

  • Yama- you absolutely do NOT belong in the OR. Yes, buy the fillets.

    Great post!

    kayoko on

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