Jump to content


Welcome to the eG Forums!

These forums are a service of the Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to advancement of the culinary arts. Anyone can read the forums, however if you would like to participate in active discussions please join the Society.

Photo

Fish filet knife


  • Please log in to reply
35 replies to this topic

#1 mcohen

mcohen
  • participating member
  • 218 posts

Posted 18 March 2010 - 05:37 PM

I've started cooking more fish, and I figure it should be cheaper and better in terms of getting fresher fish if I buy whole fish and break it down myself.

But, when I've been tried to do that with a regular chef's knife for salmon, I end up leaving so much meat on the bones that I figure its probably costing me more money buying a whole salmon rather than buying salmon fillets.

I don't know if its technique or equipment, and its probably both.

So, what's a good flexible boning knife to use on fish?

#2 ojisan

ojisan
  • participating member
  • 371 posts
  • Location:Monterey Bay area, California

Posted 18 March 2010 - 06:17 PM

You might want to look into a traditional deba instead of a flexible blade.

Monterey Bay area


#3 Soundman

Soundman
  • participating member
  • 101 posts

Posted 19 March 2010 - 04:01 AM

A deba is a good choice, but if you're new to filleting, a standard western flexible knife is hard to beat, I have a Global, one of the few remaining Globals in my collection and it's good.

#4 David A. Goldfarb

David A. Goldfarb
  • participating member
  • 1,307 posts
  • Location:Honolulu, HI

Posted 19 March 2010 - 06:00 AM

I use a few different knives for filleting fish--French and German style chef's knives and a flexible and a stiff boning knife. The main thing is that it needs to be really sharp to do a clean job. Lately I seem to be doing a lot with my 4-star "Elephant" Sabatier carbon-steel chef's knife. It's thinner and lighter than a German style chef's knife and holds a terrifically sharp edge.

The ones you see the guys in the fish markets using usually have a very thin blade that's angled back like the Wusthof on this page (scroll down to "W4622WS")--

http://www.knifemerc...rID=19&mtype=18

I'd like to get a deba at some point, but it seems that the main attraction of a deba is that it serves two functions--it can be sharp enough to make a clean fillet and heavy enough to cut off the head--and in the meanwhile, I have other knives that perform those functions perfectly well. If you've never handled a deba before, I do recommend picking one up in your hands before ordering one. They're surprisingly heavy.

Here's a demo showing one way to fillet with a chef's knife--

http://www.chow.com/videos#!/show/all/11243/how-to-fillet-red-snapper

Check out "itasan18" on YouTube for many excellent videos demonstrating Japanese fish preparation techniques.

#5 Blether

Blether
  • participating member
  • 1,657 posts
  • Location:Tokyo

Posted 19 March 2010 - 06:35 AM

You can use a deba for the heavier cutting in breaking down fish. It's not the best tool for taking the skin off one side of a fillet, or the line of ribs off the other.

I can speak for my own (flexible-blade) filleting knife, which I've owned for many years and always been satisfied with: it's the 'Filleting Knife' on this page, and can also be bought under the designer's brand here.

#6 David A. Goldfarb

David A. Goldfarb
  • participating member
  • 1,307 posts
  • Location:Honolulu, HI

Posted 19 March 2010 - 06:51 AM

For removing the skin I usually use a Henckels Four-Star 7-inch flexible boning knife that I originally purchased for removing the breast from a roast turkey before carving.

#7 budrichard

budrichard
  • participating member
  • 1,710 posts

Posted 19 March 2010 - 02:05 PM

From top to bottom:
Corbet Sigman custom trout knife, sharpened on the swedge
Wusthof 'Flexibel' fillet knife 8"
Gerber 'Coho' fillet knife
Takeda Hamono Deba
Phil Wilson custom 'Punta Chivato' fillet knife 9"
Posted Image
There are two methods of fillet, the Western technique using a flexible blade whicih follows the rib cage contours and the Japanese technique which use a rigid blade to seperate the fillet from the backbone with the rib cage attached. The rib cage must then be removed. When a chef uses a chef knife, he is using the Japanese technique.
The Sigman is used only for opening the anal vent of a trout to remove the guts and as such is sharpened on the top(swedge) so a little upthrust will start the cut.
The Wushof along with the Gerber and custom Wilson are flexible to follow the rib cage contours of most fish and when done, there is no need for another cut to remove the rib cage. The Wilson is made for big fish and is a new CPM 154 steel I believe.
The Gerber is a stamped blade and I don't know if still available. This one is almost 40 years old. I would start with the Wusthof 'Flexibel' as it is relatively affordable and is a lifetime investment. A deba is not suitable for a first fillet knife.
Remember that not all fish have the same structure and you will have to learn the methods for each fish. Salmon have a row of 'pin' bones along the fillet and it doesn't matter which technique one uses, you still must use fish tweasers to remove each pin bone.
Cod have a unique rib cage and most lend themselves to a flexible blade. And of course a flat fish is an altogether different technique.-Dick

Edited by budrichard, 19 March 2010 - 02:09 PM.


#8 paulraphael

paulraphael
  • participating member
  • 2,970 posts

Posted 19 March 2010 - 05:09 PM

The cleanest fillet jobs I've seen have been done with Japanese technique and a deba. The caveat is that it's more technique intensive, and different types of fish require more radially different techniques when using a deba. This guy has posted dozens of videos showing technique for different fish. There's a lot to learn. Western style is easier to learn and also faster (and the knives are generally cheaper). I'd like to get a deba and put in some time learning to use it ... but I happen to enjoy this kind of geekery.

Edited by heidih, 20 March 2010 - 11:02 AM.
fix link


#9 budrichard

budrichard
  • participating member
  • 1,710 posts

Posted 20 March 2010 - 03:56 AM

The construction of the knife determines the technique that is used. A stiff non flexible blade is not suited to following the rib contours as the OP has learned. The Japanese do not make a flexible blade for this purpose so the Deba determines the technique.
I think the Western technique with flexible blade is much better than the Japanese multi cut technique. I hardley ever use the Deba pictured here for anything as the other blades do a much faster and better job. Many Western chefs use the Japanese multi-cut technique for the simple reason that all they have available are inflexible blades such as a chef's knife.
I would be interested in viewing the videos you referenced if you can supply a link. I loooked at the blog but no videos. I will try a search on YouTube in the meantime.-Dick

#10 Prawncrackers

Prawncrackers
  • participating member
  • 1,145 posts
  • Location:Birmingham, UK

Posted 20 March 2010 - 04:52 AM

I would be interested in viewing the videos you referenced if you can supply a link. I loooked at the blog but no videos. I will try a search on YouTube in the meantime.-Dick

For some reason Paulraphael has put a link to his own blog, i think he meant to link to Itasan on YouTube. Possibly the best thing on the internet!

#11 paulraphael

paulraphael
  • participating member
  • 2,970 posts

Posted 20 March 2010 - 08:08 AM

For some reason ...


Ack! Reason may be early senility. Thanks for the catch, and for linking to Ittasan ... that's exactly who I had in mind.
(and apologies in advance to anyone who gets Ittasan's theme music permanantly lodged in your head)

Edited by paulraphael, 20 March 2010 - 08:11 AM.


#12 jsager01

jsager01
  • participating member
  • 96 posts

Posted 20 March 2010 - 06:57 PM

Take a look at this website. It has videos on how to filet many different species of fish. You may find the 'dutchglish'quite hilarious,and some of the pages are only in dutch, but i think the videos are explicit enough without the language.

#13 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 20 March 2010 - 06:57 PM

I've watched a number of professionals do this, and the ones who aren't sushi chefs have mostly used cheap Forschner/Victorinox knives. The blue-handled 6" Microban flexible fillet knife seems to be an industry favorite and is available for between US$15 and $20 depending on the merchant.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#14 budrichard

budrichard
  • participating member
  • 1,710 posts

Posted 21 March 2010 - 05:24 AM

I watched this video http://www.youtube.c...u/9/rfzGeu69Qns
As I stated, the knife determines the technique and since the chef does not possess a flexible knife he must gut, remove the gills and do a multi cut to prepare a seas bass(Zuzuki) for sashimi/sushi. I have to assume that the reason the gills were removed is that the chef has use of the head in mind along with the carcass. In any event, the use of the deba to remove the gills is much better and safely accomplished by a heavy duty fish shears of which Wusthof makes one, that will also very easily also remove fins, but again this is a Western versas Japanese method. Using a flexible fillet knife, one can in two strokes prepare the fillet without gutting the fish or removing any bones. first remove the fillet by cutting down the backbone and following the rib countours and then remove the skin. If the head and carcass are wanted, simply gut, remove gills and fins.
The chef because of the knives used and technique, spends a great deal of time(about 10 minutes) on what is a very quick task with a flexible fillet knife.
I can do either technique but rarely use the Japanese method.-Dick

#15 budrichard

budrichard
  • participating member
  • 1,710 posts

Posted 21 March 2010 - 05:31 AM

I've watched a number of professionals do this, and the ones who aren't sushi chefs have mostly used cheap Forschner/Victorinox knives. The blue-handled 6" Microban flexible fillet knife seems to be an industry favorite and is available for between US$15 and $20 depending on the merchant.

The knife referenced is listed as boning knife by Forschner with a usable blade of 5". I would have to assume that the Microban treatment makes the knife attractive for commercial use but in reality the knife is too short to fillet and remove skin from all but the smallest fish. An 8" fillet is the shortest I use and sometimes even the 9" Wilson could be bigger depending on the fish size.-Dick

#16 Prawncrackers

Prawncrackers
  • participating member
  • 1,145 posts
  • Location:Birmingham, UK

Posted 21 March 2010 - 07:07 AM

The chef because of the knives used and technique, spends a great deal of time(about 10 minutes) on what is a very quick task with a flexible fillet knife.

This is what's really good about these videos, that he's slowed the action down so we see exactly what's happening. The point of view camera work makes for the perfect educational tool. I don't think he's trying to impress anyone with rapid knife skills here. For the home cook like me 10 mins to fillet a fish perfectly is 10 mins well spent. In a commercial setting I'm sure Itasan would be much faster like other sushi chefs I've watched in real life.

#17 Blether

Blether
  • participating member
  • 1,657 posts
  • Location:Tokyo

Posted 21 March 2010 - 07:31 AM

In my short spells in a trout-processing factory, for beheading half a ton or a ton of fish between two or three of us first thing of a morning, we used a knife almost identical to 'Heavy Duty Fish Chopper' shown on page 2 here. For the heavy lifting of filleting, we had automatic machines from Germany, and for going over the resulting fillets and taking off part/completely missed rib cages, we used something very like 'Filleting Knife 8053'. I don't know the details - in those days I was just one of the guys that wielded the blades. The filleting knife hadn't as much flex as my own does. One of my colleagues put all the knives over a stone first thing, and we'd use two or three each of the 'choppers' per session.

I only found this catalog recently. I'd always wondered why we used to use butcher knives to cut fish up - and here they were fish choppers all along. My manual technique always followed the cut-into-three-slices-then-remove-ribs Japanese sequence I learned from the German machinery.

It's interesting that the catalog shows 'color coding' to be an important concern in trade applications.

Edited by Blether, 21 March 2010 - 08:02 AM.


#18 paulraphael

paulraphael
  • participating member
  • 2,970 posts

Posted 21 March 2010 - 09:24 AM

Picture quality isn't great, but here you can can a sense of the fundamental difference between the European and Japanese techniques.

Final sea bream fillets from filleting-fish.com:

Posted Image

And final sea bream fillets from Ittasan 18:

Posted Image


Ittasan is definitely slowing things down a lot for the camera. Nevertheless, someone with similar skills will be faster with a western fillet knife. It's just a faster technique. Which is why Western techniques (or similar ones) are ubiquitous in high volume places like fish butcheries. Even in places like the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

But the results are never as clean. Is this important? For fish eaten raw, very much so. For lightly cooked fish, it makes a difference. Chefs debate if it makes any difference when fish is fully cooked.

#19 budrichard

budrichard
  • participating member
  • 1,710 posts

Posted 21 March 2010 - 11:12 AM

"But the results are never as clean. Is this important? For fish eaten raw, very much so. "

I absolutely disagree with the above and in fact the results are exactly opposite of what is stated. I can fillet a fish without having to remove gills, guts or fins, all of which result in blood, slime gettting spread around. Even for a flatfish, I end up with 4 fillets with the entire flatfish intact except for the fillets. The fillets then have the skin removed and no washing is needed, period. There is no question in my mind that if preparing small fish for sushi/sashimi, the Western technique is far superior in every way. Now if were talking about tuna, that's another topic.-Dick

#20 Edward J

Edward J
  • participating member
  • 1,161 posts

Posted 21 March 2010 - 12:47 PM

The way I've done salmon for the pasty 20 or so years is with a cheap Victorinox sandwich knife (serrated blade) and a ho-hum but sharp 10" Chef's

Behead the fish with the sandwich knife, then with the blade resting on top of the spine, bring it down all the way to the tail, remove the side. There will be a bit of meat clinging into the hollow of the spine,and this is virtually inmpossible to remove with any filleting technique. Use a soup spoon and scrape this off--good for farces, quiches, etc.

Flip the fish over so it's spine is resting on the board, put the blade of the same sandwich knife again ontop of the spine and draw it all the way to the tail, remove second side, and scrape the flesh from the spine with the soup spoon.

I tend to remove the skin before de-boning, as I find it easier to remove the pin bones after the skin is removed. For the skinning, I find a heavy--albeit sharp- RIGID blade works best. Make a cut about 1/2" in from the end of the tail and rest the edge of the blade into this cut and on the skin, angle the blade almost level to the cutting board and pull the tail skin with your hand against the blade, wiggling the knife a bit as you go all the way up to the other end.

What's left of the rib cage is best removed with a sharp chef's knife, then the "belly flaps" are cut off.

Pin bones are best removed, I find, with a pair of cheap-o s/s tweezers I found in China town. The ends of the tweezers are a good 1/2" wide and angled, with sharp ends. As this is "spring-loaded", I find it much less effort than to use a pair of pliars which must squeezed open and closed

#21 paulraphael

paulraphael
  • participating member
  • 2,970 posts

Posted 21 March 2010 - 12:56 PM

"But the results are never as clean. Is this important? For fish eaten raw, very much so. "

I absolutely disagree with the above and in fact the results are exactly opposite of what is stated.


Whose results? Whenever i've seen fish filleted by someone with good deba skills, the cut flesh is as smooth as glass. I've never seen similar results with western technique. Maybe it's possible, but not common. You certainly don't see examples of it in that how-to-fillet fish website.

#22 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 21 March 2010 - 01:38 PM


I've watched a number of professionals do this, and the ones who aren't sushi chefs have mostly used cheap Forschner/Victorinox knives. The blue-handled 6" Microban flexible fillet knife seems to be an industry favorite and is available for between US$15 and $20 depending on the merchant.

The knife referenced is listed as boning knife by Forschner with a usable blade of 5". I would have to assume that the Microban treatment makes the knife attractive for commercial use but in reality the knife is too short to fillet and remove skin from all but the smallest fish. An 8" fillet is the shortest I use and sometimes even the 9" Wilson could be bigger depending on the fish size.-Dick

Definitely, Dick. The 6" knife is only suitable for small fish. But man do these fishmarket guys do a lot of fish per hour with those cheap Forschner knives, stopping every few minutes to hone them on the steel and sharpening them daily on a grindstone. For larger fish they use larger knives, but the blue-handled Forschner seems to be very popular, along with the similar green-handled ones the brand-name of which I forget.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#23 slkinsey

slkinsey
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 11,104 posts
  • Location:New York, New York

Posted 21 March 2010 - 03:41 PM

Can anyone quickly explain the Western, flexible-blade technique? Or point to a good video of someone doing it cleanly and expertly?
Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

#24 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 23 March 2010 - 06:16 PM

I've done it inexpertly and uncleanly. You make a cut behind the gills, then you work the knife along the ribcage from one side, then the other, then the whole fillet comes off. Those of us who do it badly really hack up the flesh while doing it. But I've seen professionals do in in just a few quick, clean strokes of the knife.

By the way I saw a guy in a fish place using one of these today:

http://www.swissarmy...&product=40613

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#25 mcohen

mcohen
  • participating member
  • 218 posts

Posted 05 April 2010 - 07:07 PM

I only found this catalog recently. I'd always wondered why we used to use butcher knives to cut fish up - and here they were fish choppers all along.


This is a very interesting point. If there are specific knives designed for fish, why do we use something like a boning knife to cut up fish? I know I'm almost never going to use it to bone a chicken, and I want the best possible knife form to cut fish.

I'm assuming people have used the boning knife for versatility- one knife to bone both meat and fish instead of getting two knives. However, in Fat Guy's experience with professional fish mongers, they're using a boning knife to cut fish even though they don't need that versatility. Surely, the professionals must be using a boning knife for a reason?

Can anyone quickly explain the Western, flexible-blade technique? Or point to a good video of someone doing it cleanly and expertly?


Here's a really good video:



At the very least, you should watch it just for the part about the importance of using a mallet when cutting fish into steaks.

#26 mcohen

mcohen
  • participating member
  • 218 posts

Posted 05 April 2010 - 07:32 PM

Ideally, what's the best shape for a fish knife?

I've seen different variations from cimiter shaped knife where the spine and blade are curved like a sword to something like the boning knife where the spine remains straight.

The knife referenced is listed as boning knife by Forschner with a usable blade of 5". I would have to assume that the Microban treatment makes the knife attractive for commercial use but in reality the knife is too short to fillet and remove skin from all but the smallest fish. An 8" fillet is the shortest I use and sometimes even the 9" Wilson could be bigger depending on the fish size.-Dick


Just when I was all set to buy the Forschner Fat Guy recommended...

First of all, I'm kind of confused- it said it was 6" so how did you know it only had a usable blade of 5".

What's the most versatile size for a fish knife? If I'm going to fillet fishes like salmon, is the 6" still too small?

#27 nickrey

nickrey
  • society donor
  • 2,215 posts
  • Location:Sydney, Australia

Posted 05 April 2010 - 11:45 PM

One of the reasons for using a long knife for filleting is the same as using a long knife for making Sashimi. If you use only one slicing cut, you will not wind up with broken flesh where you have sawed backward and forward with the knife. You basically work along the length of the knife during the filleting motion. Sashimi sliced in this way will glow; if it is sawed it will look dull.

I use the same Victorinox blade referred to on 24Mar by FatGuy which is 20cm (8") and is sharp all the way along its length. I bought it after Testuya Wakada identified it as the blade he used in one of his cooking demonstrations.

See this video for a demonstration of using the whole blade of a knife for filleting a salmon.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four.
Unless there are three other people." Orson Welles
My eG Foodblog


#28 Blether

Blether
  • participating member
  • 1,657 posts
  • Location:Tokyo

Posted 06 April 2010 - 05:49 AM

See this video for a demonstration of using the whole blade of a knife for filleting a salmon.


That guy's had some practice :smile: - is it significant that it's pink fish and Pink Floyd ?

What intrigues me about knife design is the how and the why. I look at the shape of the blade on a 'boning knife', or a 'butcher knife' or a 'carving knife' or 'filleting knife', and I look at the thickness of the blade along the spine and through the blade, and at how flexible the blade is. I can guess, but no one's saying "this is designed this way because xxx". The marketing bumff all seems to be written by (for ?) know-nothings.

I have some faith in the designer of my own knives, but it would be nice to know some of the thought behind the designs. I like my flexible fish filleting knife because (1) it's good for getting the blade down under a fillet for skinning it, (2) I guess it's easier to bring a flexible blade back on line if the blade starts to wander during a cut, and (3) it's sharp as get out.

I have a 'boning knife' too. It's much stiffer than the filleting knife, with a thicker blade, a less aggressive cutting angle and a rougher finish on the cutting edge.

When it comes to the butcher knife, that's a very distinctive shape, but why is it that way ? For breaking down carcasses is my guess - where you need to reach in deep and be able to make a slicing cut with the tip of the knife. But what am I missing ?

Edited by Blether, 06 April 2010 - 05:56 AM.


#29 mcohen

mcohen
  • participating member
  • 218 posts

Posted 07 April 2010 - 08:03 PM

I use the same Victorinox blade referred to on 24Mar by FatGuy which is 20cm (8") and is sharp all the way along its length. I bought it after Testuya Wakada identified it as the blade he used in one of his cooking demonstrations.


The weird thing is that I googled Testuya Wakada and knife, and I guess he's signed some deal with Mac knives because he's quoted as saying, "It (Mac)is the only brand of knife I will use in the kitchen." And, given his japanese heritage, you'd think he would have used the japanese fish fillet knives as discussed previously in this thread.

But, I'm still curious about the Victorniox blade. Under the category of fillet/fishing knives, Victorniox mades quite a number of different knives with different shapes. By now, you'd think there would be some type of consensus on the best shape for a knife to fillet a fish with.

#30 David A. Goldfarb

David A. Goldfarb
  • participating member
  • 1,307 posts
  • Location:Honolulu, HI

Posted 07 April 2010 - 08:12 PM

If only there were some type of consensus on the best shape for a fish.