Removing the Skin from Fish Fillets

Many people have written me to ask if there is a trick to removing the skin from a fillet of fish. The answer is: not really.  No matter the species of fish, the process is the same.

Figure 6-1

Removing the skin from a walleye (shown here), bass, northern pike, bluegill or any fish for that matter – is easy, especially when compared to, say, cleaning a bass or removing the y-bones from pike.

Figure 6-2

If you have some sort of gripper – pliers work well – that makes holding the fish skin easier, by all means use it. Otherwise, grab hold of the very tail of the fillet using your left hand (I'll assume that you are right-handed) with the rest of the fillet pointed away from you.

With your fillet knife, cut down at an angle just until you reach the skin (obviously being careful not to cut through the skin… which is very easy to do) and begin to slide the knife between the flesh and the skin.

Figure 6-3

Keeping pressure on the back side of the blade, move the knife toward the other end of the fillet, ensuring that the blade stays at a shallow angle between the meat and the skin.

At this point and with your left hand, you can actually begin to pull the tail away and in a direction opposite to the way the knife is moving.

Figure 6-4

While pulling, if you move the tail in sort of a horizontal S-curve/back and forth motion, it makes the task easier. The skin will peel off like it is hardly attached… and voila, you have a boneless, and now skinless fillet!

Figure 6-5

I hope that helps. It, too, may take a bit of practice, but far less than removing the y-bones. Once the skin is off, there are a multitude of possibilities in terms of the way to prepare your now boneless and skinless fillet: fried is very good and how most seem to enjoy it... or you can even try your fillet sautéed, stir-fried, baked, horseradish encrusted or – well, you get the idea.

But some time when you get some really fresh northern pike – a 3- or 4-pounder works really well – try the Mesquite-Grilled Margarita Pike recipe. I’ve never had a bad review!

And contrary to popular opinion – myth actually – that many mistakenly believe, the bigger the pike, the whiter the meat… and the better the flavor. Walleye, by the way, is exactly the opposite. Those really big 'eyes (over 17-19 inches) are tough and do not have the almost sweet flavor of the smaller fish.

Related Products

Order R Karl's Filleting Book

The complete set of instructions for filleting bluegills, bass, northern and walleye is available in both paperbook and ebook formats. Order your copy today!

In the Kitchen with the Pike Place Fish Guys: 100 Recipes and Tips from the World-Famous Crew of Pike Place Fish