How to Properly Clean a Fish

by Brendan Byrne

Jun 11, 2016

© Matthew Mill | Dreamstime

Tips / Other

Over the course of around 20,000 years, the Inuit body has adapted to the freezing temperatures, primarily down to their high fish and marine life diet, which provides them with massive levels of omega-3 fatty acids.


The Inuit body is used to sitting, hunched over a hole in the ice, fishing and cleaning fish, while Arctic winds batter them from every angle. So much fish is consumed, the cleaning process is probably not half as rigorous as it might be for, say … well, just about anyone else. The Inuit tolerance to germs from what we’d consider not clean fish is astronomical.


The rest of us need to be more careful when cleaning and preparing fish for personal consumption. Picture yourself, rod in hand, casting off your favorite wall or stretch of beach. You wait a little bit, then you feel that tug on the end of your rod. The excitement is almost unbearable. Reel the fish in and get him off the hook. Give his head a sharp knock off a stone or the wall. You should aim to clean your fish within an hour of catching it. Fish spoil quickly after dying.


When the time comes to cleaning your fish adequately, do it at the beach or wherever you’ve been fishing. Gutting and scaling is a messy job and you don’t want to be doing that at home. You’ll stink up the house and get scales everywhere. Get down to the water’s edge somehow. I say this for two reasons: The water makes it easy to clean off any blood and it also makes the scales come off easier if the fish has dried a little. You’ll need a sharp pocketknife and a butter knife.


Scale the fish first; the intestines inside make it easier to hold. Drag the butter knife against the grain of the scales from tail to gill. You’ll need to do this until the vast majority of the scales are gone. Use short, sharp strokes. Pay close attention to areas around the fins and make sure all the scales are gone. Rinse after scaling.


It sounds crude, but find the fish’s anus at the lower end of its belly and poke the tip of your knife into it. This will give you a guaranteed central and straight incision up the fish’s belly. Gently wiggle your knife up to just in line with the gills.


Pull the innards out, severing any parts attached inside. Rinse the fish in the water to wash away any blood and guts. Put the fish immediately into a cooler and take it home. Either freeze it or eat within 24 hours.


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