How to Fillet a Catfish

How to Fillet a Catfish

Filleting a catfish is no fun, but let’s start with the fun part. The one about getting the catfish in the first place.

Many of you actually like to catch their own catfish, but we’re not gonna talk about that. Just make sure you are not fishing in a polluted or heavy metal laden waterway.

You can also get a catfish from a friend, buy a live one or…get a dead one instead. Even though the last one may feel like a total cop-out, who are we to judge? After all, it’s what you put on the table that counts the most 🙂

Step 1: Start with the head

catfish head cutAssuming your catfish is already dead (not a pretty picture, we all know), begin by cutting through the sink in a ring, all around the bade of the head. You will come back in this area later and you only need to do this to get a better grip on your fish.


Step 2: Get rid of the fins

You continue with cutting off  the back (dorsal) and stomach (ventral) fins as you want to handle easier your catfish. You may keep the small fins and the tail as they’re going to be very helpful when handling the fish.

An average lake or channel cat fish comes with large, spinier fins that may even draw blood or slice an inflatable boat. You should definitely remove this type of fins so you don’t end up hurt while filleting your catfish.

Step 3: Get rid of the skin as well

If your catfish is small, young and farm-raised, its skin should be thin a delicate. When you’re handling a bigger, older catfish though, you may need a pair of pliers to skin it.

work your way from the head back and the top down, using some fingers, a sharp knife and …a lot of patience. Keep the knife close to the skin and make sure your knife is very sharp. Note to self: you want to cut the fish off its skin and not the other way around! After all, you do want to have as much flesh as possible!

Step 4: Throw away those head and guts

Find the line where you scored around the head earlier and cut through, using a big knife. You need to bend the head back against the body until you separate the vertebrae.

With the head all gone, cut a slit along the belly up to the anal fin. Try to pile all the weird bits, along with the head. It’s better not to puncture the guts…you don’t need the extra-mess.

Rinse well the catfish so that nothing is left.

As for the head and guts, it’s all up to you what to do with it. You may use them for baiting some crab traps or simply bury them under some plants.

Step 5: It’s time for the dorsal cut

Important detail: you really need to know a thing or two on fish anatomy.

Keep your knife parallel to the catfish, over the top side of its body. You begin by slicing in, nice and easy, to top side of the midline. You need to go close to the backbone so you end up with as much fish as you want. You stop when you hit the vertebrae. A move starts in the front and stops in the tail.

Step 6: The ventral cut

Work your knife around the tail and back along the ventral side. Detach the fillet from the vertebrae and hold well the tail section while doing it.

Trim even more carefully when you get to the ribs. It is also important to know how you’re gonna cook your fillet. If you’re planning some stir-fry nuggets, you don’t need the extra-attention in the ribs. However, when you’re cooking the fillets whole, you should keep them intact. In this case, it’s best to work from the backbone down, skimming along the ribs to get as much flesh as you can.

Step7: Repeat!

Flip the fish over and repeat the whole process on the other side. You may find it a bit more difficult this time, but the spine is more flexible now.

Step8: What to do with the carcass?

Some bag the carcass and put it in the freezer for a future fish stock. Keep in mind to label it with the month and year.

Step 9: Always clean up

If you’ve done this outside, kudos for you! You may skip this step and you only have to bury the scraps and wash off the grass.

If not, you need to scrub the cutting board with some soap and hot water. Go nuts…or not! It’s entirely up to you 🙂

Step 10: Let’s cook!

Fillet of Catfish

Catfish combines with very strong flavors so you may try some East Asian dishes or any other spicy dishes.

You may deep-fry, stir-fry, pan-fry it or use it in a fish taco or a soup. Get creative and…enjoy it!