Life & Style | Food

How to debone a fish

Add this must-have culinary skill to your culinary repertoire

  • By David Attwater for Alpha magazine
  • Published: 00:00 December 1, 2011
  • alpha

  • Image Credit: Grace Paras/ANM
  • Use a knife with a flexible blade because you don’t want to ruin your fillet when you apply pressure to the bone for a really close cut.
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It's that time of year when men, who have probably avoided the kitchen like the plague for 11 months, suddenly appoint themselves commander-in-chief of the all-important festive bird. So since you've already sharpened up your best knives for the task, here's another must-have culinary skill that our ancestors could have performed in their sleep: deboning a flat fish.

Fresh comes first

Choosing a fresh fish is of paramount importance. The three main things to look out for with any fish, are the gills, which should be a bright red colour; the eyes, which should be shiny and bright rather than dull and blurry and the smell, which should be salty without being fishy. So keep those fresh fish tips in mind. It'll make all the difference to your finished fillets.

Have the right tools

Using a fish knife is best but if you don't have one, a flexible sharp knife will do the job just as well. You need it to be flexible because you want to be able apply pressure to the bone for as close a cut as possible, without cutting through it and ruining your fillet. Aside from that, a sturdy chopping board is all you need. It'll prevent the fish sliding all over your kitchen counter.

Get to work

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Score a line down the fish's back, which is a simple process with a flat fish like Dover Sole. Then, place the blade against the bone and in one action - which is why it is so important to have a sharp knife - slice the fillet away from the bone whilst holding and gently pulling the fillet. With a flat fish you will have four fillets, two on top and two underneath. Repeat the process with the second, third and fourth pieces. Remember not to saw at the meat or you will break up the flesh. Boil the remaining bones as a stock for soup or stew.

The dish

Once you've mastered the art of deboning a fish, why not try pan-fried Dover Sole with stewed cabbage, turkey bacon, wild mushrooms and clams?

This month at the Montgomerie Dubai…

Don't fluff your big chance to impress in the kitchen this year with your festive responsibilities. Learn the basics and more from Nineteen head chef David Attwater by signing up for tailored cooking classes. For more information go to

David Attwater is head chef of Nineteen at the Address Montgomerie


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