How to Fillet a Fish with Jamie Malone of Sea Change
Photos by Joy Summers
As these long summer days are stretching out before us, it’s about time that cabin starts calling. Drop a line in the water and sit back a spell. Soak that sunshine into your skin and discard all your cares.
Even if you haven’t got a boat, or a line, or the inclination to catch your own shore lunch, this is still the season for lighter fare for dinner. Let a gorgeous bit of seafood star in the center of your table and don’t worry if the idea of picking up a whole one is intimidating. Breaking it down into manageable filet is easy, satisfying, and ensures you get the most usage out of each fish.
No one in this town prepares a piece of fish more beautifully than Jamie Malone of Sea Change. The renowned chef has been featured as a Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine, inside the pages of Cooking Light, nominated as a James Beard Award semi-finalist and still found time to write a brilliant piece for Esquire.
She took a moment out of her hectic day to show us just how easy it is to fillet a whole fish. She began with a salmon so fresh I kept expecting to see that clear eye wink at me. (All the seafood used at Sea Change is sustainably sourced.)
Using a kitchen towel she wiped the fish from head to tail on both sides. “First, we’re removing their natural slime. It’s good for keeping them free of bacteria before they get to us.” However, now it’s time to go.
Next she makes an incision using a sharp knife, directly behind the gills to the spine bone.
Next, she slides her knife along the length of that spine to the tail, using the kitchen towel against the fish skin to hold the filet in place as she just barely moves her knife back and forth. It’s important to slice, never saw as you’re cutting your fish.
She flips the salmon over and repeats the process. “Now, there are these little bits of flesh that we missed here,” she says. Using a spoon, she gently scrapes it along the bone to retrieve what was left behind. She reserves that for a tartar or some other tasty little snack. Discard the head, tail and bones.
The filets still have a little bit of the rib cage attached to them. Placing the filet skin side down on the cutting board, she makes a careful incision just along the top of the ribs, then folds it out like a book onto the board. Using the tip of her knife, she slices along the belly and removes the ribs before discarding them.
She repeats the process on the other filet and then trims off the remaining fins, first slicing along the top of the filet to remove the dorsal fin. On the bottom, she cuts the fin by sliding her blade from the tail side towards the head (or where the head used to be).
This technique works for most whole fish, although if you’re working with a salmon as Malone did, a cedar plank and a grill would come in handy right about now.