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How To Clean a Fish and Not Be Grossed Out

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Here’s how to clean a fish, without getting sick or risking your reputation.

Cleaning a fish is messy business, and it’s hard not to cringe at the sight of all those fish guts.

Unfortunately, there’s no trick to keeping your stomach from turning when the time comes to clean a freshly caught fish. However, following the proper procedure can make the process as smooth and efficient as possible, and that means avoiding any unnecessary messes.

Plan to clean the fish within a 1-2 hours of catching it.

Fish spoil quickly. If you want to make the process of cleaning it as pleasant as possible, do it when the fish is fresh. When you catch the fish, keep it in a water-filled cooler. This will make it easier to remove the skin or scales and keep it fresh longer. Set up your work table outdoors and cover it with newspaper.

Cleaning a fish can be very messy, and you don’t want that mess indoors. Newspaper can simply be thrown away, as opposed to any other sort of table covering that might need to be washed.

Set everything up before you start. That means setting up a bucket for the excess guts, skin, scales, and bones, making sure you have the sufficient tools for the type of fish you’re cleaning (ex. Pliers for a fish with skin, butter knife or scaling tool for a fish with scales), a separate chilled cooler for the meat once you’ve cut it away, and, of course, a fillet knife.

Get to work

There’s more than one way to clean a fish, and a lot of factors to take into consideration. What type of fish is it? How to you plan to cook it? Do you plan to fillet it or just gut it? Decide before you start what you’re going to do so the process of the actual cleaning goes by much more quickly.

Many different species have different approaches that work best, but ideally, you’ll want to slice the fish’s fillet right behind the pectoral fins down and into the flesh. Then, turn the knife blade towards the back of the fish, and cut along the bones while lifting the fillet up as you go.

This takes some practice, so don’t be bummed if you end up butchering a fillet or two.  Take a look at this tutorial from Filleting Fish, a YouTube channel that helps instruct in the finer points with guidance from Paul Powis, a Rapala pro.

Remember why you’re doing this

If the process of cleaning the fish proves to be just too gross, try to remember the delicious meal that’s going to come out of it. Clean your work table immediately afterwards. Even if you used a disposable table cover or newspaper, it’s always worth it to give your table a good rinse afterwards.

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How To Clean a Fish and Not Be Grossed Out