fish-cleaning-art – 4/29/06
“Amra's Capsule of Cleaning, For Freshwater Fish, Intended for Beginners” by al-Sayyid Amr ibn Majid al-Bakri al-Amra (Amra).
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2006 16:40:43 -0600
From: "Mike C. Baker" <kihebard at hotmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Using all the fish
To: "Cooks within the SCA" <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>
> We have a local place where we can get uncleaned fish for about 50% less
> than cleaned fish. So I am wondering what are some good strategies for
> making maximum use of any edible or good for flavoring part of the fish?
> And I should warn you that I have minimal fish cleaning experience, so
> there's no such thing as over explaining here :-).
> gordonse at one.net
"Minimal fish cleaning experience":
Here's _Amra's Capsule of Cleaning, For Freshwater Fish, Intended for
Understand that I am trying to condense many years of observation and
practice to a few relatively brief paragraphs here. The process is not
really that difficult, or even that time-consuming, once you get the basics
down. What follows is strictly from my memory and experience, and as such
may not be as complete as what you might obtain from working directly with
me or another experienced freshwater sport fisherman.
Useful tools: heavy cord or braided fishing line, knives/cleavers,
spoon(s), pliers (at least two pair if skinning catfish), diagonal
pliers/wire cutters, assorted buckets and pans, scaling board, cleaning post
/ frame / method to suspend the fish. A work surface a little above waist
height helps, something that can be cleaned regularly during the process.
If dealing with live fish straight from the stringer, trap, or holding cage,
a small hammer and/or a stiff wire (or approximately 20d nail) for use as a
pithing spike are strongly recommended
EXTREMELY Useful Resource: someone who has done this before (I learned from
my grandfather & father; Grandad Baker spent the last 20+ years of his life
on the lake 8 months out of 12, typically cleaning fish at least four days a
week), or at least a video / film covering parts of the process.
0) Determine if better filleted or "cleaned", based on type and size of
fish. Set up area: source of clean water, bucket for discards, pan with
clean water to receive main parts we wish to keep (OPTIONAL: add some table
salt to this pan), second pan(s) filled with water for secondary parts we
are keeping for other uses.
1) (Larger fish, most catfish of any size) Suspend the fish from a post /
line, over an area that can be washed down afterward, using large cord (one
per fish, or switch off after completing first two stages of process)
threaded though gills and mouth. Rinse fish and tools with clean water.
1A) For catfish, clip base of primary "spikes" using wire cutting pliers
(diagonal pliers) if not already done by fisherman. (Clipping these
*before* putting into the holding cage or onto a stringer is safer and
results in less damage to the rest of the catch...)
1B) For live fish, kill using hammer or pithing spike. (If you've gotten
this far, I'll assume that you aren't too squeamish...) THIS TAKES SOME
PRACTICE for most people, and is definitely easier to show than to describe.
For catfish, pithing is easier / simpler / more humane, but finding the
right spot to insert the spike is best shown by someone with prior knowledge
and even then can take some
2A) remove fins / barbs: making an incision on either side of the base of
fins, use pliers to pull fin out of carcass. For catfish, remove the
clipped barbs with pliers and DISCARD (poisons/significant bacterial
threats). By suspending the fish as described above, we can pull *down*
during this process, using our weight to make things easier. NOTE: for
small scaled fish intended to be filleted, removing the fins is sometimes
treated as optional.
2B) (larger scaled fish) take down long enough to remove scales (see Stage
3). Hang back up, carefully slit open abdominal cavity, go to Step 2D.
2C) (catfish, or other fish where the skin is removed before use such as
eel) using a SHARP knife, cut through the skin just below the gill slits,
"girdling" the fish. Repeat just above the tail spines (some fishermen
remove the tail completely at the point, using a pair of pliers and a sharp
Cut ONLY as deep as necessary to sever the skin. Using two pair of pliers,
one on each "side" of the fish, clamp onto the skin just below the incision
line and pull downward with a steady, constant pressure. Done well, this
will remove the skin more or less in one piece AND will open the intestinal
cavity, perhaps even removing the bulk of the internal organs. Discard skin
into "trash" bucket -- or reserve for special projects (too many for most eating purposes). Rinse with clean water, taking care not to let the outside of the skin contact the newly revealed meat of the fish.
2D) Using your hands, especially your forefingers, hook behind the internal
organs and remove from carcass. You may need to use a small knife to detach
supportive tissue -- be careful not to puncture the gall bladder! Rinse out
the cavity thoroughly.
2E) Break / cut through backbone just below gills, separating the head from
the main carcass. Rinse meat with clean water, put into prepared pan.
Discard fish head, or remove to secondary-usage pan.
3) it is FAR easier to remove fish scales with a spoon that it is with a
knife -- for scaled fish. Depending upon size, I have had the best luck
scaling up to three or four pound freshwater by using a prepared scaling
board: attach a short length of heavy braided line to one end of a plank
about 18 - 24 inches long and 8 - 10 wide (larger for larger fish, of
course). Clip off or file off the barb from a large fish hook and attach to
the free end of the line; alternatively, stiffen the free end of the line by
adding a tippet / dipping in glue / tying on a large and relatively blunt
needle. Hook this into the mouth/gill slit of the fish to be scaled, hold
down the tail with one hand, use other hand to scrape back against the grain
of the scales with the edge of a spoon bowl (hold bowl between thumb and
forefinger, supporting the spoon handle with palm /wrist). Flip fish over,
repeat on other side.
4) Separate into pieces, generally working on a horizontal "cutting board" surface.
4A) filets: cut along ribcage carefully, taking care not to cut into /
through any bones, working head-to-tail and beginning just below the
pectoral fins on smaller fish.
4B) "steaks": either using a cleaver or a heavy-backed knife (one you won't
cry about being hit with a hammer), cut across the carcass perpendicularly
to the backbone, taking care to cut between the ribs. I'm not that accurate
with a cleaver, hence the "trick" of using a hammer to break through between
4C) "whole" fish: what separation? <gryn>
5) Holding for use / Longer term storage:
5A) Under refrigeration, using light brine (1/4 cup salt per gallon?), up to
three days in a good refrigerator. Depending on type of fish, better flavor
usually develops after 4-6 hours and is retained through the next 24 - 30
(freshwater catfish) -- RINSE THOROUGHLY before cooking.
5B) To freeze, rinse thoroughly and pack loosely into cartons, then
completely fill with fresh water. Freezing into a solid mass in this manner
avoids "freezer burn"; with a reliable chest freezer, this worked for as
much as three years with minimal impact to flavor and texture when fried
normally. (We used to do this process in well-cleaned one gallon paper milk
cartons, leaving enough free space above the water line to fold the result
closed. Have had comparable results in half-gallon paper, or one-gallon
plastic with the top removed and a plastic film cover rubber-banded into
place.) Using this method of freezing, remove from freezer and allow to
thaw at room temperature the day of use (hold in refrigerator up to 36 hours
PLEASE: I'd like any observations / alternatives / questions that may
arise -- I don't go out as much or as widely as I once did, family lives
half a continent distant, and I want to preserve some knowledge here AND I
want to do so in such a fashion that it is coherent, useful, etc.
Adieu, Amra / ttfn - Mike / Pax ... Kihe (Mike C. Baker)
SCA: al-Sayyid Amr ibn Majid al-Bakri al-Amra, F.O.B, OSCA
"Other": Reverend Kihe Blackeagle PULC (the DreamSinger Bard)