5@5 - Fishmonger-turned-restaurateur Dan Bugge
August 23rd, 2010
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Before Dan Bugge became the owner of Matt's in the Market restaurant in Seattle, Washington, he spent eleven years as a "fish thrower" at the famed Pike Place Fish Market - where fishmongers literally throw fish over the walkway between the ice display and the checkout counter.

Given his fin-omenal background, we seized this oppur-tuna-ty to learn how to achieve that perfect filet of fish - not to be confused with the Filet-o-Fish - every time .

Five Tips for Cleaning Fish: Dan Bugge

1. Initial prep
"Place the fish on its side with the tail toward your dominant hand and wipe fish down with a towel. This makes it easier to keep the fish on the cutting board."

2. Scale the fish
"Using a horse brush or something similar and holding the head with your off hand, run the brush against the grain from tail to head on the first side. Flip the fish over and repeat. This is one of the really fun parts, but probably best executed outside! Expect there to be scales flying all over the place. The reason for scaling the fish is to avoid getting any scales on the meat when you place the fish on the grill. Once you’re done scaling, give the fish another quick wipe-down on each side with your towel."

3. Remove the fins and head
"Using a sharp knife pointed away from your body, slice the fins off against the grain. We remove the fins prior to filleting so that they aren’t in the way. Flip the fish around so the head is now toward your dominant hand. Using your knife, cut of the fish’s head. Leave the tail on."

4. Filleting
"Begin by slicing the belly of the fish open. Again, be careful when you cut. Hold the fish open with your off hand. With your knife, begin on the head side of the fish and ride your knife along the fish’s backbone all the way to the tail. Be careful when holding the fish open so as to not pull too much - this will tear the meat. Don’t worry if you aren’t able to cut through the fish the first time. If need be, just go along the backbone until you cut through. Once you cut through, the fish will lie open like a book."

5. Removing bones
"Now that your fish is lying open, you’ll see bones on each half of the fish. Beginning at the head end of the fish, carefully slide your knife under the backbone, which will be the set of bones closest to you. Ride the underside of the bones all the way to the tail. Cut through the tail and the backbone and tail can be removed as one piece. Note that there will be some meat left on the backbone. Use a spoon to remove that excess meat and use it to make fish burgers, fish cakes or bisque. Repeat with the other half of the fish to remove the rib bones. Finally, remove the 'pin' bones. These are the bones that, when running your hand from head to tail, you can feel the pin bones under your fingers. Using a 'J' cut, slice under one side of the pin bones, then the other and lift the pin bones out.

Grill by placing tin foil on the grill and place fish skin-down on foil. Add a little lemon, dill, butter, olive oil, salt and pepper and grill on medium heat for about 20 minutes."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. fishguy

    HuntfishSD- Everyone is an expert, and from your comments, especially you. Wonder why they didn't have you do it? Oh I know......... because no one cares how you do it. The way you have described it could also be the worst way I have ever heard of a salmon being filleted. I have cut thousands of salmon over the past 15-20 years and the way that he has described it is EXACTLY the way I have done it everytime! Not only is it the most yeild of meat but also the most clean way of doing so. These tips are for the average Joe to try so they are done in a simple way with very little confusion. I don't even understand what you are talking about through most of your description, it actually made me laugh out loud.
    So were do I start...........
    A. if you look close enough he is using a 10" blade made by dexter russell, guess what the call it a "fillet" knife! imagine that.
    B. if you have to use a sharpening stone before every use then you don't know how to sharpen a knife.
    C guts should be removed once salmon is caught and then ice should be placed in the belly. You talk about "odor", a fresh salmon should smell like the ocean if it has any other "odor" then please tell me where you get your salmon so I make sure I never go there.
    D. Handles? the only handle needed is the one located at the bottom of the 10" dexter russell "fillet" knife.

    Here we go......
    1. Drag your knife through multiple times? If you knew how to sharpen a knife then only one cut is necessary, not multiple times. I do agree that it is not a sawing motion, that is why I say a with a sharp knife only one pass through will cut down to the bone.
    2-5. you lost me with cut this fin, cut that fin, cut this, don't cut that, gingerly around ribs, blah, blah. You then go on to mention... leave the skin that is attached to the ribs? Isn't there any meat between the skin and the rib? I am possitive that EVERY salmon I have EVER cut has a beautiful thick thing called "the belly" between the skin and the rib bones. That belly is filled with omega 3 fats that are good for you. Maybe you meant the membrane that is attached to the rib bones, but since you seem to know it all how could you be wrong? Then you go on to mention anus and contamination? Again, please tell me where are you getting your salmon so I don't go there.
    6. Rinse with a mild brine solution? WHAT?!!! 1st of all "Fresh" salmon sould never loss its scales and 2nd what would be the other "stuff" not wanted that you are talking about? Shouldn't there be just eatible meat left when you are done. I know when I am done filleting fish the other "stuff" has already been discarded.

    You then go on to mention if you have to use a spoon then you are doing something wrong. I have NEVER come across a fisherman, chef, or any other "professional" that has gotten ALL of the meat off the back bone of a salmon. I have watched and learned from the best chefs and fishmongers in the world(maybe you are just better than everyone else). All though there is very little to be scraped it is still worth it. Totally boneless tender meat!! Some like to call it utilizating they entire fish and being concerned that there are millions of people starving in this world that would love the chance to have such great food. The food you seem to just discard.

    You also mention "if you are an expert" it should take you 5 minutes. Why would an expert need to be told how to fillet a fish? Again these type of articles are to help out the general public, the people that are NOT experts and need a few helpful tips.

    Your way, my way, his way, her way, we all have a way that we have learned that works for each one of us. Why is it so important to you that you have to slander him and the way he prefers to fillet?


    August 27, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants


      He explains the "I rarely get to fillet a fish, this is fun, let's make it an art!" route. This is the only time in my life (and I've commercially, subsitence, and game fished for salmon my whole life) I've ever seen pliers used in filleting a salmon.

      August 27, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
      • fishguy

        pliers remove the pin bones, without having to break through the flesh. try it with needle nose pliers, give the bone a little wiggle and it will slide right out. Makes for a beautiful,completly boneless, whole side of fish.

        August 28, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  2. christopherF

    Don't ruin a beautiful salmon by cooking it.
    Sushi baby!

    August 25, 2010 at 7:47 am |
  3. jerseyairman

    As the son of a fisherman ive been doing this for my hole life and this is hands down the worst way ive ever heard anybody filet a fish in my life i truely think at 7 years old i could filet a fish better then this.

    August 25, 2010 at 3:33 am |
    • HuntFishSD

      That's what I am saying man! About 50 extra cuts and a whole lotta extra time! Buy maybe that's how the "professionals" do it... LOL

      August 25, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  4. Swamprattler

    If the fish are small like bream, frying is my choice, but if it's a red drum or some fish of 5-6 pounds or more, try foil and the grill. first make a boat of foil for the fish, next, coat with beer, no matter the brand too much, then butter, NOT margerine, coat the fish, then lemon juice, and lastly onion rings, seal it up, and drink a beer, when your beer is gone, the fish is ready. best dang steamed fish on the planet.

    August 24, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
    • Swamprattler

      Oh, scale the fish, and remove the guts and head, leave the fish whole, do not filet

      August 24, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
  5. Matt

    I'm OK with everything except placing the fish on foil. If you're going to cook it on foil, why not just put it in a frying pan on the stove?

    August 24, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  6. Dave

    Field & Stream mag had a nice way to filet, leaving the skin and scales last month, real timesaver. I'm sure you can look it up online.

    August 24, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  7. HuntFish

    Oh, if you got to use a spoon during your filleting process, you have done something horribly wrong, ;-)



    August 24, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      Have you caught many salmon? Particulary, larger than 16-18 pound range? Spoon is helpful in clearing out the blood line under the spine.

      August 24, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  8. HuntFish

    As a spearfisherman that's speared and filleted many, many fish, I can say that this is the worst way to fillet fish I have ever heard!.

    Before you start:

    A) Ensure you have a very sharp FILLET knife. You can't fillet with a steak knife.
    B) Use a sharpening stone and honing oil to sharpen your blade every time.
    c) Never nick the rib cage and expose the guts. That's where most of the parasites (and odors) are.
    D) Never cut off the head or tail, these are used as handles during the fillet process.

    OK, here it goes. If this is done properly you will have two fillets and one carcass as the product. Three pieces, 8 blade cuts, and 5 minutes of your time if you are an expert!

    1) Make a cut on each side of the dorsal fin, longitudally, from head to tail. Keep running the fillet knife through these cuts, getting deeper with each pass, until you get to the spine (it's about half-way through the fish- you will feel the hard stop). Remember, it's not a saw, it's a fillet knife (just drag it in one direction, multiple times, not back and forth). Keep the knife as close to the bones as possible during this step. Do not make any vertical cuts or cut through the tail skin.

    2) Make a cut one one side of the fish, starting from one of the intial cuts (the edge closest to the head), and cut down around the head and pectoral fin towards the belly, but do not cut into the rib cage (Do not cut the head off, i.e. do not cut through the spine! The head is going to be your handle). When you get to the rib cage, use your fillet knife to gingerly cut around the rib cage, leaving the ribs and skin on the ribs essentially intact. Once you make your way around the rib cage, continue on towards the belly, but end your cut just south of the anus to avoid contamination.

    3) Finish filleting the lower half of the fish by turning your knife sideways and letting the blade gingerly slide over the bones towards the tail, using the head as a handle. Do not cut the tail off, it is going to be another handle. Leave just enough skin to anchor the fillet to the tail.

    4) Flip the fillet over like a page in a book that is bound at the tail. Make a small vertical cut in the meat at the tail, but do not cut through the SKIN! Turn your knife sideways and remove the fillet from the skin, holding the carcass/tail as a handle.

    5) Repeat with the other side.

    6) Rinse with a mild brine solution to remove scales or other stuff that's not wanted, and seal with vacuum sealer and freeze to kill any potential parasites.

    Boom. That's a five minute, perfect fillet. Done right, you will be able to see through the carcass. This other way that they told you in the story is unbelievable! It's take me an hour and a half to fillet a fish that way, and I'd have fish guts and fins and slimey towels all over the kitchen! Don't do it!!! Hahaha...



    August 24, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      I have seen fish fillet'd (how do you spell the past tense of fillet??) in this fashion, but it's one of many variants. There is more than one way to fillet a catch, most are very similar though. And I agree the use of an actual fillet knife is somewhat critical. However, as I mentioned above – if beauty (like you're going to smoke it) is not a factor, and you have a lot to go through (like a large subsistance haul) I've seen the electric knife do wonders, too. Rudimentary, I know.

      August 24, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
    • patrick garrison

      thats also how i do it..no bones , no guts no skin

      August 25, 2010 at 9:10 am |
  9. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    An electric knife works like a charm, especially if you're trying to filet a large 50 lb King salmon or numerous fish, makes quick work.

    August 24, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  10. Hsiao-Ching Chou

    You can watch Dan Bugge, owner of Matt's in the Market, fillet a fish in this video, too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20OfSofsjTg

    August 23, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
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