No need to be surprised seeing how many people struggle to clean up a catfish the right way. One common reason is they don’t know how to fillet a catfish the right way.
Another reason maybe catfish is slimy and really hard to fillet precisely because of its firm skin. But with a sharp fillet knife and a step by step guide, it should be that hard to crack.
How To Skin And Fillet A Catfish?
Most people find filleting catfish hard simply because they don’t follow the right steps and they use a boning knife to get the job done. But filleting a catfish really requires a sharp and stiff fillet knife.
You should not skip any steps I am about to talk about. Follow the process exactly the way I discussed here a few times. Pretty soon, you will become a PRO!
Assuming you have it already, just follow the step by step process.
- Catching & Selecting The Right Catfish
Do not catch those fishes in a polluted waterway. Also, if you plan to eat the fish, make sure it’s between the size of 3 to 5-pound. Anything above will taste like mud! Just let them go if you catch a large catfish.
- Kill It Humanely
If you have a live catfish to fillet, the first step is to kill it humanely. Now, I know you have your own way to put the fish out of its misery before you fillet it. Many people just whack it on the head and stun it (and probably kill it too).
But some angler and amateur feel squeamish doing so. To do it quick and guilty-free, position the pointy part of your knife directly above its head and spinal cord. Now, quickly push it down into its brain.
This is the best way to make it as less painless as you can.
- Remove The Slim
You can’t fillet it precisely if it is slime. As you know, catfish is one of the slimiest fishes out there!
You must grab it firmly to begin filleting. So, the first step is to remove the slime from it as much as possible.
Any abrasive cloth or burlap sack can be used for this purpose. From top to the bottom of the fish, wipe it with the abrasive cloth. This makes it less slimy and keeps the whole cutting process clean.
Another way to remove slime from the catfish is to tub it with hot water and cut-up lemon.
- Start From Cutting The Head
You do not want to remove the head at the very start. Just cut through the skin around the base of its head. You need to do this to create an edge to start skinning.
This is exactly where you will cut to remove the head later too. But leave it for now to have a firm grip to fillet it properly and conveniently.
- Remove Its Fins
If it’s a farm-raised catfish, you will notice soft and smaller fins. But if you catch it from a lake, it will have larger and spinier fins. Removing those fins as soon as possible is important in this stage.
To make the filleting easier, cut off all the fins from the stomach (ventral) and back (dorsal) of the fish. You do not want them to get your way while filleting.
Do not cut the tails off in this stage. You will need the tail for easy handling.
- Skin Removal
First, understand the skin type of your catfish. Catfishes have leathery and tough skin and without removing the skin, you can’t simply eat it!
You will see delicately thin skin on a smaller farm-raised catfish. But the older and larger catfish has thicker skin. Many people use a pair of pliers to skin off their catfishes.
But you can just use your fingers and your sharp knife to remove the skin if you don’t think your catfish won’t stand up for this sort of abuse.
Before you start removing the skin, you should think that you are removing the fish from the skin instead of removing the skin from the fish. And while skinning, try to leave as much meat as possible on the body of your catfish.
Start from the head back and top-down of your fish and keep the knife as close as possible to make your skinning perfect.
- Head & Innards Removal
It’s not difficult to learn how to gut a catfish, but this is the step where you need to pay a close attention. Because, if you accidentally puncture the gut, your fish will be completely ruined.
Remember the ring you made around the head of the fish in step 4? Use a big knife to cut off the head from that point. Depending on how thick the vertebrae are, you may need to be creative to remove the head.
If you find the vertebrae too thick, cut everything else and bend the head against its body until the vertebrae break. Then use your knife to cut any connecting tissues. Congrats! You have successfully removed the head!
Now, let’s remove all the guts. You need to be careful here. You do not want to puncture the guts. Make an incision to the bottom of the fish with the tip of the knife and cut all the way to the tail fin.
Remove all the bits and rinse your fish a refreshing cleaning. Just pile the guts with the head and store them separately for now. I will tell you what to do with them later in this article.
- Begin Filleting
You want to get as much meat as you can. So, without hurry, make several cuts under the loosened fillet until it’s come off. A slow and steady cut will get you more meat.
- On the edges, you may notice fat. Trim off such fat.
- Clean the mess properly. Dispose of all the guts, skeleton, head properly. Scrub the cutting board with hot water and soap. Clean your knife immediately afterward too.
Now, watch the video to recap the entire process.
Storing The Catfish Fillets
Before storing the fillets in the refrigerator, wash your hands very well. You do not want to transfer the bacteria to the fillets!
Now, rinse the fillets and dry them with a paper towel. A Ziploc bag is good storage baggage. Place those fillets in the bag and press all the air out before you zip it locked.
Get a plate and fill it with ice. Put the fillets on top of the ice on the plate and place some more ice on top of the fillets. Now, put the plate in the refrigerator. Your fillets will be fresh to eat for up to 3 to 4 days using this storage method.
Best Use of Catfish Carcasses
I know a lot of people just dump the carcass back in the water after filleting. To me, there is nothing wrong with it. You are actually feeding the fishes in the water.
But, some states impose a hefty fine to do so.
If you are living in one of those states, don’t do it anymore. Instead, take the carcass home and bury it in your lawn or flower garden. It’s a natural fertilizer for your garden.
Every leftover part of the catfish (skin, tail, fin, meat) are enriched with nitrogen and potassium and will help your lawn to thrive.
Alternatively, you can store the carcass to make your own fish stock and use the same in your other seafood recipe. Yes, this will make your dish stand out to bring out the flavor.
But make sure to label the carcass package mentioning the date and year before you put it in the refrigerator to avoid confusion in the future.
FAQs on Catfish Filleting
Does Hitting A Fish On The Head Kill?
Answer: It will stun it for sure and to many, that’s enough to start filleting. And most of the time, hitting it on the head will kill it too.
Does Putting Fish On Ice Kill Them?
Answer: No. Most fishes don’t die even if you put them on ice for a long time. Most fishes live in ice too. But if you are talking about any tropical fish, ice may shock it but still, it won’t kill the fish.
How Do You Kill A Fish When You Catch It?
Answer: There is nothing wrong with stunning it by hitting hard on the head if you are okay with it. But another method is called pithing where you can position the pointy part of the knife directly above its head and push into directly to the brain to kill it quickly and humanely.
What Does Catfish Taste Like?
Answer: That depends on its size and whether it is farm-raised or you catch it from the lake. If it is farm-raised and smaller in size, it will have a mild sweet taste. But larger size channel catfish taste like mud.
Filleting a catfish is challenging. And you may ruin it using a dull knife and bad guideline. I did! So, I had to learn how to fillet a catfish with an electric knife.
But the good news is, if you get a hang of it, you can fillet any fish you want with your knife. Show me your love sharing this article with your friends. I did put a lot of time and effort into writing this piece for you!