How to Prepare Fresh Whole Fish

Jennifer Recipes

How to fillet fish

  1. Place dressed fish with belly toward you. With a very sharp knife, cut through flesh from end of cavity back through to tail.
  2. Place knife blade against backbone and cut along backbone from head to tail on one side of fish, severing ribs and top piece from backbone.
  3. Lay top piece aside. Remove backbone from remaining side.
  4. With a smaller knife, trim away rib and fin bones from both pieces. Pull out pin bones, if desired.
  5. If you wish to skin fillets, place skin side down on cutting surface. Hold tail end tightly. With sharp knife, cut down through the flesh to skin. Flatten knife against skin and cut flesh away by sliding it toward head end while holding tail end of skin firmly.
  6. Prepared fillets can be baked, poached or grilled, or cut into serving-sized portions.


  1. Remove fins, tail and collar (just behind the gills) section.
  2. Slice fish crosswise into 1-inch steaks.


Fresh fish should be used with in 2-3 days. If you won’t be using it within that time, fish may be stored up to 6 months in a home freezer at 0oF or lower.

  1. Rinse the fish with cold running water.
  2. Smaller fish can be frozen in one piece. Larger fish or pieces of fish should be cut into 1-inch thick fillets or steaks.
  3. The key to successful freezing is to create a barrier to air. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap then protect with an over-wrap of aluminum foil.
    Place the seafood in a resealable plastic freezer bag. Press the bag gently to remove air trapped in the bag. Seal and wrap with aluminum foil.
  4. Label with name of seafood and date frozen.
  5. Place in a single layer with at least 1 inch of surrounding space to allow for adequate circulation of cold air. One-inch-thick fillets will freeze in about 16 hours.


To maintain the quality of frozen seafood, it is best to defrost it in the refrigerator over night. Whenever possible, avoid thawing seafood at room temperature or by placing it in warm water. Slow thawing in the refrigerator will help retain moisture, flavor and nutrients. Figure a thawing time of 18 to 24 hours for a one-pound package. Of course, it is not always possible to thaw seafood overnight. If you’re in a hurry, you can thaw frozen fish and shellfish under cold running water. Seal the seafood in a plastic bag and place in a large bowl. Position the bowl and seafood under the faucet and adjust the faucet so that a steady stream of water circulates and spills out of the bowl. A one-pound package will take 30 to 60 minutes to thaw.

In the Microwave

To thaw seafood in the microwave, select the lowest defrost power (typically 30%) and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for thawing. A one-pound portion of seafood will typically take about five minutes. Be careful to avoid cooking the seafood. Fish and shellfish defrosted in the microwave should be prepared immediately. Once frozen seafood has thawed, it is best not to refreeze it. Freezing it again will not make the seafood unsafe, but it will adversely affect the seafood’s quality.


Cutting scraps are perfect for making fish stock. Check your favorite cookbook
for recipes or go to our “Seafood Receipt”.

Or use those same cuttings for fertilizer.
The easiest way to fertilize with fish parts is simply to dig a hole about 8 inches deep near your plant, tree, or shrub. Add about 2 cups of fish cuttings and cover with the remaining dirt.
For a garden, a fish emulsion works best. Go to our post “DON’T THROW THAT OUT…MULTIPLE USES FOR YOUR FAVORITE FISH SCRAPS” for complete directions.