"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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To Filet . . . Or Not To Filet
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

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 question."
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, they say.
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 such problems.
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 a river.
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 fish cleaning.
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.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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