Choosing And Preparing Fish: A Comprehensive Guide

fresh fish carp

With the advance of technology, it is now relatively easy to transport fish over long distances in a freshly caught state. This gives us the opportunity to experiment with the huge variety of fish not previously available.

However, it’s important to be able to recognise the quality of a fish before buying it, so that you can avoid the ones that have been in and out of the freezer several times, thawed out and sold as ‘fresh’. Never be afraid to ask if you can smell the fish before buying it, or to ask pertinent questions.

Table of Contents

Fresh Fish

fresh fish

A really fresh fish looks almost alive; it has firm, yet elastic flesh, and its skin is bright and shining with a clear, viscous slime. Its eyes should be bulging and bright, with black pupils – stale fish have dull, sunken eyes with grayish pupils and red rims.

The gills should be bright red and clean; never slimy, dark or dirty. Finally, a fresh fish will smell pleasant; the more unpleasant the odor, the staler the fish.

Frozen Fish

frozen fish

Many fish have been frozen and thawed out; these are usually imported and have traveled some distance. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it gives us the chance to try out fish not found in British waters, such as red snapper or tilapia.

However, it’s important to make sure that the fish has not been subjected to repeated freezing and thawing, as this will make the flesh unpleasantly watery and wooly. A badly thawed-out fish will have a sad appearance and flabby, dull skin that has lost its natural shine and sliminess.

Choosing Fish

Fish should always be as fresh as possible, so it is wise to find a fishmonger or supermarket which receives a fresh supply daily.

The supplier should be able to scale, clean and fillet the fish for you, you should ask for the trimmings if you are going to make a fish stock (after all you’ve paid for them).

Always buy the freshest looking fish on the day you wish to cook it – don’t decide to buy a fish just because you have a recipe for it!

Listed below are a number of things you should look for when buying fish.

Choosing Whole Fish

whole fish

When choosing whole fish, you must look for the following:

  • Clear, bright, slightly bulging eyes.
  • Bright red gills.
  • Shiny, tight scales with none missing.
  • Moist, shiny, bright, skin and firm flesh.
  • An odour of the sea (Not a ‘fishy’ smell).

Choosing Shellfish And Molluscs

When choosing shellfish, you must look for the following:

  • Molluscs should be bought alive and cooked the same day.
  • Shells must not be broken or cracked and tightly closed. (If the shells do not close when sharply tapped they should be rejected.)
  • Crabs should have rough shells and feel heavy for their size, with all limbs intact.
  • Lobsters should have uncluttered shells, a slightly springy tail and feel heavy for their size, with all limbs intact.
  • Prawns and shrimps should be dry, bright and firm to the touch.

Choosing Smoked Fish

smoked fish

When choosing smoked fish, you must look for the following:

  • Firm, dry flesh.
  • Glossy skin.
  • A good smoky aroma.

Preparing Fish

In this section, we will go through the steps to approach preparation of fish. We will also talk about how to prepare round fish, flat fish and other fish.

After selecting, choose the appropriate method of preparation . Cleaning  – It is recommended that you wash your catch to remove excess blood from final fillets , gut and bone because this will spoil fishiness when cooked; Furthermore, removing all traces of blood thins water into which fish are floating after death so it gets a few people doing most washes before cooking.

Preparing Round Fish

A round fish is a fish with a round body. Round fish are characterized by the presence of a dorsal fin and tail fin, a swim bladder, and a lateral line. Roundfish include cod, haddock, pollock, flounder, and halibut. Roundfish are found in both fresh and salt water. Roundfish are a major food source for many countries, particularly the North Atlantic.

Cleaning Fish

This process involves removing any unwanted parts of the fish such as skin, bones, blood and scales. It is done by either using a sharp knife or by using a knife with a fish-scale blade.

  • To scale the fish, hold it by the tail and use the back of a knife to scrape towards the head.
  • Remove the gills, by placing the fish on its back, open the gill flap, gently pull the gills between the flap, cut and discard. Repeat on the other side of the fish.
  • Trim off the fins, using a pair of scissors.
  • Make a slit in the stomach and remove all of the entrails.
  • Rinse the whole fish thoroughly under cold running water.

Filleting Fish

Filleting is a process in which the fish is cut into small portions. This is done by cutting through the backbone and then cutting the fillet to desired size. To fillet fish;

  • Make a cut behind the head, cutting into the flesh with clean sweeping strokes, as close to the backbone as possible, moving towards the tail.
  • Repeat with the  other fillet.


Deboning Round Fish – Herrings, etc.

Deboning is the process of removing the bones from the fish fillets. This is done by cutting the fish fillet into smaller pieces and then using a knife to remove the bones. To Debone fish fillets;

  • Make a slit in the stomach and remove all of the entrails.
  • Place skin side up, pressing down to open out the fish.
  • Cut the backbone just above the tail, using the point of a knife, gently loosening the bone.
  • You should then be able to pull out the backbone, then lift out the side bones.

Preparing Flatfish

A flat fish is a fish with a flat body. The term flatfish is usually used for fish with thin, bony or cartilaginous body parts, such as scads, flounders, sole, plaice, flounder, halibut, and turbot. They are characterized by the lack of a dorsal fin and tail fin, a reduced or absent swim bladder, and sometimes by the lack of a lateral line. Flatfish are found in both fresh and saltwater. Flatfish are a major food source for many countries, particularly the Pacific Northwest of North America.


  • To scale the fish, hold it by the tail and use the back of a knife to scrape towards the head.
  • Trim off the fins on both sides of the fish, using a pair of scissors.
  • Cut off the side fins, following the contour of the fish.
  • Cut the head off and scoop out the gills.


  • Make a cut along the backbone from behind the head to the tail.
  • Keeping the knife flat against the bones, work the flesh away from the bones to remove the fillet.
  • Repeat with the other fillet, then turn the fish over and remove the other two fillets.

Preparing Shellfish & Seafood

In this section, you’ll find a wide range of step-by-step guides to preparing a variety of seafood and shellfish, including tips on shucking clams and oysters, preparing scallops and despatching a live lobster.

Despatching a Live Lobster

Occasionally, a recipe may call for a lobster to be cut up before cooking. In these situations, you will need to dispatch the lobster quickly and cleanly.

  1. Place the lobster on a board, covering its tail with a cloth.
  2. Holding the tail firmly, insert the point of a heavy, sharp knife into the centre of the cross mark where the head and tail shells meet.
  3. Quickly push the knife down to the board. This will sever the spinal cord and kill the lobster instantly.
  4. Leave the lobster for a few minutes for the reflexes to cease and then cut it in half or into pieces. 

Shucking Oysters


To Shuck is to open the shell of an oyster, clam or other shellfish with a small, thick-bladed knife to remove the meat.

There is more than one way to shuck an oyster, but regardless of the method, be sure to protect your hand holding the oyster with several thicknesses of a dishtowel or a heavy glove.

  1. To shuck the oyster, use an oyster knife and hold the oyster with the cupped side down in one hand. Either at the wide, ruffled end of the oyster, or back alongside the hinge, insert the point of the knife between the shells (you may need to try this in a few locations, until you find a spot that “gives”).
  2. Slide the knife blade into the oyster, across the top, flat shell, holding the blade flat against the upper shell to avoid puncturing the oyster meat. Slide the knife blade back and forth to cut the adductor muscle attaching the top and bottom shells.
  3. Then gently twist the knife blade to pry apart the shells and carefully remove the top shell, leaving the oyster and its liquor in the bottom shell.


Preparing a Cooked Lobster

When you are going to cook a lobster, you should know that all lobsters are different, and so they will have their own unique cooking requirements. For example one species might need 15 minutes of seasoning time before being put into the pot; another needs taking out right away because it is already cooked and ready to eat after only five minutes at 220°F (104 °C).

To prepare a lobster for cooking, follow these steps;

  1. Remove the head and tail from the lobster.
  2. Cut off the claws and legs.
  3. Crack the claw shells using your fingers.
  4. Pull out the meat from the shell.
  5. Chop the meat into small pieces.
  6. Add some lemon juice and salt to taste.

Preparing a Cooked Crab

  1. Remove the shell from the crab.
  2. Crack open the claws.
  3. Remove the meat from the legs.
  4. Cut off the tail.
  5. Pick out any stray bits of shell or cartilage.
  6. Rinse the meat under cold running water.
  7. Drain well.
  8. Pat dry with paper towels.


Preparing Prawns


The first step in preparing prawns is cleaning them. This can be done by washing them under running water or using a brush to remove any dirt that may have accumulated. After this, they should be rinsed thoroughly to ensure that no dirt remains.


After cleaning, the prawns should be cut into pieces. You can do this by cutting off the head and tail. Then, make two cuts along each side of the body. Next, make a third cut across the top of the prawn. Finally, make a fourth cut down the back of the prawn.


Once the prawn has been cut, it needs to be sliced. To do this, place the prawn flat on a cutting board. Make a horizontal slice from the center of the prawn to the edge. Repeat this action until you reach the desired thickness.

What knife do you use to fillet a fish?

Using a filleting knife or cleaver, separate the fish flesh from the bones.

Whether you are removing all parts of sea bass by cutting them off with fingers or moving to an electric sharpener , abrading bone meat away cleanly and smoothly is essential for best results in later stages preparation

Can you use an electric carving knife for fish?

Electric carving knives – may, in many cases be very suitable for thin, boneless fish fillet .

But the danger is always that you cut the skin and flesh with this type of knife at an absurdly fast speed

You should use an electric sharpener after grinding before using a full-size electric meat carver. Additionally , it is advised to grind deeper than usual , because it will help eliminate bone fragments from dishes .


How much fish should I eat per week? What kind of fish should I eat? How long does it take to cook fish? These questions are common when choosing and preparing fish.

Fish is a great source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. In addition, fish contains high levels of vitamin D, B12, iodine, selenium, zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and copper.

There are many types of fish, each with its own unique nutritional profile. The type of fish you choose depends on your personal preferences and budget.

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