There are plenty of fish in the sea, or so the saying goes, but do you know how to prepare them for cooking? From pan-dressed to pavés, there are so many different cuts of fish, it can seem overwhelming. But, learning about all of the different cuts of fish – and how to clean and cut fish yourself – opens doors to entirely new culinary possibilities!
How Parts of a Fish are Broken Down into Different Cuts
Fish get a bad reputation as being difficult to break down, but the first step to becoming a fish-cooking pro is gaining confidence in distinguishing its different parts and how to break them down into different cuts.
One of the more obvious portions of the fish, the head includes the front part of the fish to just behind the gills and first pectoral fin. Often considered a delicacy, the cheeks are the roundish pockets of flesh just below the eyes of the fish. Typically, these are only removed on larger specimens, as they’re quite small.
The body of the fish encompasses everything from where the head stops to where the tail begins, excluding any fins. The fins include the pectoral fin on the head portion of the fish, the dorsal fins along its back, ventral fins along its belly, and the tail fin. This portion of a fish is frequently discarded but can actually be eaten! In cooking terms, the tail refers to the muscular section of the body just before the fin, behind the vent.
15 Types of Fish Cuts, From Head to Tail
You might be surprised to learn that nearly every part of a fish is actually edible! From the head to the tail and even scales and fins, there’s more to enjoying fish than just its meaty insides. Check out this article to learn more about how chefs across the U.S. create delicious dishes out of the frequently discarded parts of fish.
Now onto the different types of fish cuts!
- Whole fish: Just as it sounds, this consists of a whole, intact fish. From here, they may be cleaned, gutted and broken down further.
- Dressed: A common and basic preparation, this is a whole fish that has been gutted and cleaned with the fins removed. Sometimes the head may also be removed, but the tail is typically left intact.
- Pan-dressed: Commonly used with small fish, this is a dressed fish that has been cleaned and scaled with its head, tail, and fins removed so it can easily fit in a frying pan.
- Cheeks: This delicacy is cut from the head of larger fish such as halibut, cod, hake, and monkfish. The small, roundish pockets of flesh are found just below the eyes.
- Cutlets or Darnes: At about ½ inch, these cuts are slightly thinner than steaks and are designed to be delicate, single-serving portions. They are cut from a fish that has been gutted but not filleted in cross sections running from the spine to the belly.
- Loins: As with other animals, the loins of the fish run along the spine. These are considered the prime cut of the fillets.
- Fillets: One of the most common cuts, the fillet is the meat from the side of the fish. It may be left skin on and bone-in, but is often skinned and deboned before cooking. It may also be further broken down into smaller cuts.
- Butterfly fillets: Butterfly fillets are taken from a whole fish that is gutted and cleaned with the head removed. The fish is then opened along the belly and the spine with the bones removed, leaving two fillets joined by the skin over the backbone like the wings of a butterfly.
- Steak: These are large cuts often made in the same manner as a cutlet or darne through the spine of the fish. They are typically thick and designed as single servings, much like beef steaks.
- Goujons: The cut of choice for fried fish, these are long, narrow cuts taken from the fillet. They are typically about half an inch thick, so very small fish are not used for goujons.
- Pavés: This term refers exclusively to cuts of flat fish like halibut. Pavés are small portions of the fillet, typically with skin left on and designed to serve one or two people.
- Supremes: For round fish (like tuna, salmon, etc.) supremes are analogous to pavés: smaller portions cut width-wise from the fillet. They’re sometimes called fillet steaks or just fillets.
- Tronçons: This cut is equivalent to a steak, but is used to describe cross-sectional slices of flat fish as opposed to round fish.
- Wings: Fish such as skates and rays are handled slightly differently, given their unique shape. For these, the wings are removed for serving and may also be skinned. Often these fish are quite large, so some of the prep-work is completed before they’re brought to market.
- Tail: Cut in one piece from the body of the fish, the tail is typically left bone-in and prepared by roasting whole.
Get all of the Fish Prep Essentials: The 6-Knife Set & Magnetic Knife Block
Looking for Some Good Fish Recipes?
From bacon-wrapped trout to healthy fish tacos, we’ve got a few unique fish recipes to share.
Did someone say bacon? Yes, this recipe features flaky trout fillets wrapped in bacon and topped with a classic beurre blanc, which is a buttery sweet and tangy sauce that goes perfectly with fish. And if you time it just right, you can have this gourmet-at-home recipe ready in 20 minutes! Get the recipe from F.N. Sharp.
Wood Fired Cedar Plank Salmon
Love wood-fired salmon? Make it at home with this recipe from our friend at grillhunters.co. You’ll not only find a great salmon recipe, but also some expert tips and tricks for grilling with cedar planks to help you create restaurant-quality food at home.
Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos With Mango Salsa
Give your Taco Tuesday dinner guests something to taco’ bout with this deliciously unique, yet healthy fish taco recipe! Battered and breaded with coconut flour and sweetened corn flakes, these gluten-free fish tacos are topped with homemade mango poblano salsa for a sweet and spicy kick! Get the recipe from F.N. Sharp.
Smoked Rainbow Trout
Another one from grillhunters.com, this recipe for smoked rainbow trout uses two gutted and cleaned whole trout (as pictured above). And if you’ve ever wanted to try making your own smoked trout jerky, you’ll find a recipe for that, too!
Pan-Seared Salmon with Mint Pea Risotto
This seared salmon recipe by MasterChef Contestant Chef Jeff Philbin adds a little class to your protein-packed meals. Perfect for a deliciously healthy weeknight meal, this recipe features a refreshingly zingy risotto that perfectly complements the seared salmon.
If you’re a salmon lover, you may also enjoy these other recipes by Chef Jeff:
Not a fan of salmon? Chef Jeff has some other fish recipes up his sleeve:
More on Meal Prep:: The F.N. Sharp Guide To Cooking With Different Cuts of Meat