How to fillet a fish
In further preparation for the Sunday Times Chef of the Year competition, chef Stephen Billingham brings us a simple but vital kitchen skill for cooks at all levels
Chef Stephen Billingham, owner of the HTA School of Culinary Art in Johannesburg and president of the SA Chefs Association, is an expert in all things culinary, including filleting fish. He attributes this to his early years as a trainee in the UK, where filleting "hundreds" of salmon was part of his daily routine.
STEP 1: Check the fish for quality and freshness. Most fish is gutted and scaled on the boat after it is caught. If not, use a sharp knife to cut a slit from under the head along the underbelly. Remove the intestines and rinse the cavity well under cold running water. Scale the fish by running the back of the knife in upward strokes from the tail to the head, releasing the scales. Rinse well.
Smell is the best indicator of freshness. If the fish smells of ammonia, it is not fresh. The eyes should be bright and convex. The fish should be slippery to the touch and the gills when lifted should be dark cherry red. The flesh should be firm; to test, press on it with a finger and if it bounces back, it is fresh.
STEP 2: Remove the head of the fish. Using a serrated knife cut off the head in a V shape. Cut under the dorsal fin, sawing at a 45° angle to the spine. Turn fish around and do the same thing from the other side.
STEP 3: Using the spine as a guide, cut through the skin from the top of the fish in a firm motion from head to tail, keeping the knife at a 90° angle. Feel for the centre bone and cut through the pin bones, close to the belly, to free the fillet. Turn the fish and repeat on the other side. Chop the central bone into small pieces and save to use when making stock. Clean the fillet and, using scissors, trim the fatty, tough belly section on one side. Set the fillets aside.
STEP 4: Rub a finger down the centre to locate the pin bones and use tweezers to remove these.
STEP 5: Removing the skin is optional. Some chefs like to keep the skin on for added flavour; others remove it and crisp it separately. If you are going to remove the skin, sprinkle the tail end with a little coarse salt first. This helps you to hold the fish securely in one hand while cutting off the skin with a filleting knife.
STEP 6: I was trained to cut the fillets into portions at a slight angle as this helps to prevent shrinkage. In filleting fish nothing should be wasted; the trimmings and head should be used for stock.
SUNDAY TIMES CHEF OF YEAR 2012
CHEF OF THE YEAR (first prize R50000, second R15000, third R5000) is open to professional chefs over 30.
* YOUNG CHEF OF THE YEAR (first prize R20000, second R5000, third R2000) is open to qualified chefs between the ages of 25 and 30.
* JUNIOR CHEF OF THE YEAR (first prize R10000, second R2000, third R1000) is open to qualified chefs under 25.
* STALWART OF THE KITCHEN (first prize R10000, plus R1000 for each finalist) is open to cooks and chefs over the age of 35 who have never entered a competition before. This is for those whose work forms the backbone of the kitchen. They do not need a professional qualification.
HOW TO ENTER:
Entries must be received by Friday September 14 2012.
Finalists will be notified by Friday September 21.
The finals will take place at The 7th Floor, Foodcorp’s Innovation Centre, from October 2 to 4.
For full details, rules, guidelines, lists of required ingredients and competition entry forms, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit www.facebook.com/sundaytimeschefoftheyear Follow us on Twitter for updates too @STChef2012