Thursday, May 27, 2010

Breaking Down my First Fish :)

I've been craving fish for a week or two now, so yesterday I finally I decided to make it happen. I do live in the beautiful coastal city of Charleston, SC, after all, where there's certainly an abundance of fresh, local seafood readily available at all times. So, I headed to Crosby's Seafood, my favorite little fish purveyor, to see what they had.

I named him Nemo.

 This is what I ended up with! A whole, 2 lb., locally caught red snapper.  Kind of ambitious of me, but I decided that it was high time I attempt to break down a fish myself.  I get it theoretically, but practically I've never done it.

First, I had to get those scales off.  So, I put the fishy in a plastic bag in the sink to try to make as little mess as possible.  I grasped his tail with my left hand, and with the right hand I ran a spoon down his body against the grain of the scales, and they came off pretty easily. I did this on both sides of the fish, up to just below the gills. When I was done, I rinsed him off to make sure no scales were left. 

Next, I cut off the spiny fin on his back, just because I knew I would probably hurt myself if I left it on. Because I am ridiculously clumsy.

Next, I started outlining the fillet.  I found the fish's backbone with my fingertips, and ran my knife all down one side of it, staying as close to the bone as possible.

Then, I cut through from the top to the bottom, making a little flap at the tail.

The next step is to run your knife along the belly.  You want to try to keep the bones under your knife, with the nice meaty fillet on top.


To finish the outline of the fillet, I ran my knife along the head, behind the gills and the little swimmy fin (yeah I have no clue what that's called).  Now there should be a nice outline of the fillet, with just the meat in the middle keeping it attached to the body of the fish.

So, this picture sucks, but I tried to sharpen it up as best as I could.  I didn't want to leave it out because its kind of an important step.  In this step, you actually finish separating the fillet from the body.  Just run your knife along the body of the fish, trying to keep most of the bones on the bottom of the knife.  It's a little tricky, but eventually, the fillet will come free.

So, do the exact same thing for the other side of the fish to get your second fillet.  I cut a little V out of the center of each fillet because there was a line of big, stubborn bones that weren't worth it to try to pull out.

This is the little piece with all the bones in it.

 Here are my two fillets.  I scored the skin before searing to keep the fish from curling up as the skin shrinks.  But wait!  What to do with the carcass? You wouldn't throw it away, would you?

I threw it in a pot with some onion, green onion stems, celery, garlic, peppercorns, star anise, fennel seed, and a couple bay leaves.

I covered all that with water, brought it to a boil, and then turned it down to a simmer.


I let that go for about 20 minutes, strained it a few times, and voila!

I ended up with a lovely fish fume which I then froze to have around for a later use.  I've actually got something in mind for it, so stick around and see what happens.

Okayyy so back to the snapper fillets.

Salt and pepper the fillets.  Heat some oil in a pan, and lay the fillets skin-side down first.  Cook until the skin gets nice and crispy, then right before you flip them, add some butter and garlic to the pan.  Flip, and baste in the butter for a couple minutes more.

And that's it! I had my snapper with a simple chilled cucumber / heirloom tomato / red onion salad, some pan roasted red potatoes, a squeeze of lemon, and a simple basil pesto.  The fish was sooo good.  I'm still dreaming about that crispy skin this morning.  And seriously, it probably took me just as long to post about breaking down the fish as it took me to actually do it.


Linda said...

I loved this post. Your snapper turned out great, and fume for the freezer. Good job!

Christina said...

wow! you scaled your own fish! very nice. i loveeeee red snapper.

Kevin said...

Nice techniques, perfect pictures. Gotta watch out for those poisonous injectors, not fun if they nick ya. Next time i need a 40 pound grouper broke down i know who to go to. Very impressed Danielle!