At the risk of being accused of filching the words
of a guy who found it very difficult to write what he meant, the text for
today's mini-sermon is: "To filet . . . or not to filet . . . that is the
I didn't know about filleting fish until I was
a young man. When I brought in strings of goggle-eyes (rock bass), bluegills,
or what have you, the standard operating procedure for "fish cleaning"
(getting them ready for the skillet) was to scrape off the scales, cut
off the heads, and remove the entrails.
When my grandmother, mother or sister fried them
for a fish dinner (supper to county folks), it was necessary to have at
least two old iron skillets going on the old wood-burning stove because
those Muscatatuck River goggle-eyes were so big that the old skillets would
hold only a brace of fish, three if they were small.
To this day, I would much prefer fish fried with
skin on, bones in, to any filet you can put on my plate.
Perhaps my silly notions, which are shared by
many dyed-in-the-wool anglers, have no basis of consequence. We may be
whistling as we walk past the cemetery at midnight.
Another view comes from the old fishing boat
captains and wharf-rat friends that I seek out on bad days for fishing
at North Carolina's famed Outer Banks. When these old codgers take fish
home, they always select whole fish. When I ask if they filet the fish
they point out that their wives, who cook them, want skin on, bones in.
They do not throw around such terms as nutrients, or food values, but this
is what they mean.
"Fish should be cooked with skin on, bones in,”
Certainly, it is easier to eat fish filets than
whole fish (skin on, bones in). And there can be no doubt that this is
safer for all concerned, especially children. Small bones in the throat
can be a problem. The old folks always said a big bite of bread would solve
However that may be (it, the bite of bread routine,
has worked for me), the focus of this column is to point out that it is
possible to have your filets (for convenience and safety) and have your
bones and skin, too, (if I may filch from still another writer who suffered
from the same afflictions as the other guy).
And while I must rely on the modus operandi of
yet a third party --a web-page reader, Ron Kommer, of Virginia--the concept
is a simple as falling backwards off a slippery log as you are crossing
Kommer, who tells me about a nice catch of crappies
in the spring, says his wife likes her fish as filets. He, the old county-boy
type with Pennsylvania leanings, relishes picking his fish (including the
skin) off the bones.
So he came up with the "half-filet" method of
Ron says he scales one side of the fish and leaves
the scales on the other side.
He filets off the side with the scales on, then
removes the rib-cage bones and the skin in true filet fashion.
This leaves the head on the other side of the
fish and the entrails in the fish. He cuts off the head, removes the entrails
and fries the fish in the same manner that he would prepare a whole fish
for the table.
Ron says that while the "half filet" concept
offers fish the way both he and his wife want it, the greatest feature
of the plan may be that little is wasted.
AN ALTERNATE PLAN--For those of the "damn the
torpedoes, full speed ahead" school of fish cleaning and cookery, the years
of standing behind my old Chicago
Cutlery filet knife (designed for some other use), have taught
me a thing or two about filleting fish.
So go ahead and filet both sides of your fish
if that flips your cork. I still use the system on some occasions. After
all, I find it difficult to bad mouth a nicely browned goggle-eye filet.
But if the removal of that first filet (side)
of the fish makes it a bit more difficult to do a good job on the second
side, there is a cure for that, too.
Get the filet on the first side ready to remove,
but don't do it. Just leave it there to support the fish and make the second
side easier to prepare for removal.
Then (you guessed it) shave off both sides.