Basic preparation

Scaling – Removing the scales from whole fish.  It’s very difficult to scale fish once filleted.  Some fish such as John Dory and Mackerel don’t have scales.

Gutting – Removing the guts from whole fish.  Best removed as soon as possible, as when left, the guts breed bacteria which damage the flesh.

Cuts and portions

As a very rough guide, you get approximately 50% meat (yield) from a whole fish.  However, this varies by specie and the preparation and cut required.  Also, removing the skin reduces the yield further by approximately 10%.

Whole fish – As consumers become increasingly adventurous when eating out, we are seeing a return of portion sized fish (300-600g) being served whole again.  Both round and flat fish can be cooked whole with simple preparation.

  • Round fish – should be scaled & gutted, and fins removed (though not essential).  The flesh can be scored prior to cooking to take seasoning if required, and the gut cavity is ideal for stuffing with herbs.
  • Flat fish – should be gutted and trimmed, then can be either left with the skin on, skinned both sides, or ‘blacked’ (skinned on the dark side only).  The head can also be removed if required.

Fillets - The most common cut and available from any fish* - round or flat.  Fillets from larger fish can be further cut into portion sized suprêmes or escalopes.

*Notable exceptions!

  • Large game fish (such as Tuna & Swordfish) are filleted into large 2kg+ loins, which are then cut into suprêmes.
  • Skate have ‘wings’ – which are the pectoral fins, usually skinned and trimmed.
  • Monkfish does produce fillets, though all the meat is in the tail.  The tails must be skinned and the membrane removed – this is a thin layer under the skin, which if not removed, will shrink the flesh when cooked (similar to ‘sinew’ in a sirloin steak).  The tails can then be trimmed and either cut across the bone into a steak or cut off the bone in to a fillet.

Pin boning fillets – Once filleted, there still remains what are known as ‘pin bones’.  These can be removed with strong pliers, or the fillets can be ‘flick’ / ‘V boned’, where the bone line is cut from the flesh.  Fillets can also be ‘J cut’, where both the bone line and the flap of the fillet are removed leaving a ‘J’ shape at the head end of the fillet, though this is less popular as it doesn’t look as attractive.

Variations of the fillet and other portions ….

Quarter-cut fillets – A single flat fish fillet can be cut in half length-ways into quarter fillets.

Butterfly fillets – Portion size whole round fish can be de-headed, and filleted only cutting through either the back or belly side creating a ‘butterfly’ style fillet once opened.  An attractive way of presenting fish, and ideal for filling.

Pocketed fish – Portion size flat fish can be de-headed, trimmed and filleted without cutting into the top or bottom sides creating a ‘pocket’, which can be filled and baked or grilled.

Canoe fillets – Whole round fish filleted along the back as per butterfly cut, except the head is left on creating a ‘canoe’ shape.

Goujons – Finger sized strips of fillet, which are usually coated and fried – but can also be ‘plaited’ to create a lattice effect.  This gives a great visual contrast when using Salmon and any whitefish.

Fillet tails – when cutting suprêmes from a large fillet, you get a tail piece left, which is not as popular due to its irregular shape which doesn’t cook as evenly.  However, if you can use them they can be a good buy.

Loins – The prime part of a fillet taken above the bone of a large round fish such as Cod, and taken from either side of the bone of large game fish like Tuna.  Smaller loins from Cod or Hake may be portion size, but large loins from Tuna and Swordfish will need cutting into suprêmes.

Suprêmes – Sometimes confusingly called steaks, fillets or pavés, suprêmes are prime boneless portions cut from large fillets of loins.  Traditionally, suprêmes were often cut on the slant, but these days are cut straight.  They are an extremely popular cut, as they provide a thick piece of boneless meat, which clearly appeals to consumers put off by bones in fish.

Tournedos – A deep, precise round portion, cut from large game loins.  The loin is trimmed to create a cylindrical shape, which is then portioned.  Ideal for creating height on the plate.

Steaks – Portions cut through the bone of a whole fish.  Also known by the French as a darne when cut from a round fish and a tronçon when cut from a flat fish.

Pavés - Also known as roasts (and – again confusingly – suprêmes, tronçons and steaks), pavés are cut from large flat fish by cutting in half down the length through the bone, and then cutting the two halves into portions – normally with the skin left on.

Escalopes – Cut from a large skinless fillet at an angle towards the tail.  This creates a thick slice, which provides good plate coverage.  Often confused with a délice.

Délice – A skinless fillet folded over (skin-side on the inside).

Paupiette – A skinless fillet spread with a stuffing on the skin-side, and then rolled and baked or steamed.