We’ve watched our mothers doing it and we have seen it done professionally at the market but what if we wanted to learn how to clean a fish properly, where to start? We have sought the advice of an authentic Milanese institution, the renowned fish shop Pescheria da Claudio whose staff, after explaining how to recognise fresh fish, have provided us with some useful tips on the most effective and correct method for cleaning it.
Let’s go step by step and before explaining how to clean a fish, start by making a distinction between different types of fish. Despite having a completely different flavour, gilthead, red mullet, hake and salmon belong to the same family, that of round fish, and may all be cleaned in the same way because they have a vertically positioned central backbone. There are other fish groups requiring different cleaning methods, such as swordfish and tuna, or tub gurnard and scorpion fish.
Before starting to clean the fish, we need to know how we intend to cook it: for instance to cook sea bass in a salt crust, it is better not to remove the scales, because such a thin membrane would allow too much salt to penetrate the flesh and impair the resulting flavour. Conversely, for oven baking, the scales must be removed first.
Here are all the steps to follow if you want to learn how to clean a fish:
1. START FROM THE BELLY
Starting from the fin and proceeding in the direction of the gills, cut the belly of the fish and remove all the innards (this is called gutting).
Rinse the belly of the fish in plenty of cold water to remove all traces of blood (if you want to cook the fish in a salt crust, this cleaning operation is sufficient).
3. REMOVE SCALES
Scrape off the scales by going against their natural flow, that is to say, starting from the tail and proceeding towards the head. If you intend to fillet the fish and therefore remove the skin, this operation is superfluous and in fact will only complicate matters because, once the scales are removed, the skin is more delicate and more difficult to separate from the flesh.
4. CUT THE FISH IN HALF
At this point, you can cut your fish in half: leave the head on and cut through the fish from the head to the tail. Avoid starting from the tail, because in this way you risk leaving too much flesh attached.
5. REMOVE THE BACKBONE
Once you have cut the fish in half, remove the backbone; now you can chop off the head in one blow.
6. REMOVE THE SMALLER BONES
Now you can start to remove the smaller bones attached to the fillets. Using fishbone tweezers, start from the head and work diagonally.
7. REMOVE THE SKIN
Start from the tail: this is much easier because you can use the tail as a “grip” as you rip off the skin. Attention: if you have previously removed the scales, the skin may be more difficult to remove and not come off in one piece.
8. DO NOT THROW AWAY THE SKIN
The skin should not be discarded: it can be used to make many tasty seafood recipes.
Now you’re confident when it comes to preparing your fish, here are a few recipe suggestions to consider. If you’re a fan of spice and the subcontinent, then this sea bass steak recipe with Indian spices is quick and easy to make. For a creamier Indian recipe, also using sea bass, this fish curry in coconut comes courtesy of chef Atul Kochhar. For flavours that are still tasty but a little less exotic, then monkfish lends itself well to Italian ingredients, as in this recipe for monkfish with prosciutto and artichokes. Finally, this delicious monkfish with sesame seeds, garlic, broad beans and tomatoes hails from the Sicilian city of Catania.