As they say, give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Let him watch you fillet said fish, and he’ll revere you forever.

Just imagine, at your next barbeque, seeing the look of respect and admiration on your buddy’s face when you casually mention that you actually caught and filleted that very fish he is shoveling into his gullet. How cool is it going to be to tell the guy at the seafood market to leave the head on? What entitles that guy to all the fun? Now it’s your turn!

Incidentally, stay tuned for future articles on how to catch any fish, and how to grill it to perfection…But for now, let’s start with the part that requires a knife and a little blood. Without further ado, here is a step-by-step lesson that every man should know.

It takes a certain amount of touch to fillet a fish, but expending a little more effort at the cleaning stage is worth it because it means no bones at the eating stage. When you get the hang of filleting, you can zip through a pile of fish pretty quickly, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment that you can do something as well as the old-timers.

Don’t worry too much if you don’t get absolutely all the meat off the fish when you first start filleting. The idea at the beginning is to get some. If you skin the fish, as recommended, you do not have to scale it first. Obviously, if you are going to use the skin, scale it unless you like to eat scales. Figure 1 shows the basics of filleting a small fish (up to about 5 pounds).

It’s best to start with a little water to wash it off-preferably salt or purified, if available.

Figure 1: Filleting a small fish.

1. Cut off the head just behind the gills.

2. Hold the fish by the tail. With the knife blade pointing away from you and across the body of the fish, begin to cut toward the head (or at least where the head used to be). Use the backbone to guide your knife.

3. To take the skin off, begin by holding the fillet by the tail, skin side down.

4. Hold the knife crosswise across the fillet and insert the knife between the skin and the flesh. Don’t worry if you don’t get this perfect at first.

5. While holding the skin, cut in the direction of where the head used to be.

6. Finish by washing it with a little more water, bagging it up, and getting it on some ice until you get to the grill or the freezer

When you have a larger fish, the tail-to-head method of filleting can be a little awkward. In this case opening the fish like a book is an effective method, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Try this technique for filleting larger fish.

Follow these steps (shown in Figure 2) to fillet a larger fish:

1. Make a deep cut just behind the gills (about halfway through the thickness of the fish).

2. Cut a slit a few inches in length along the top of the fish (the dorsal side).

3. Using the tip of the knife, separate the flesh from the bones, as illustrated. The fish should open up just like a book.

4. When completely open, finish cutting away the fillet by moving the knife along the “spine of the book.”

5. Just like with the smaller fish (above), wash what you plan to take in a little cold water, bag it up and get it on some ice.