Even if you’re reasonably good at catching fish in the wild, it’s important to note that preparing and cooking the fish is a slightly different ballgame. Due to the differences in the physiology of fish, it’s never a “one-size-fits-all” affair; different fish call for different prepping and cooking techniques, as you’ll see in this article.
That said, here are three types of fish that are easy to prep, so you can make the most out of your catch.
Salmon is one of the best natural sources of beneficial Omega-3 and healthy fats, even more so when you manage to catch an organic one in the wild.
What you’ll need
A clean, flat surface such as a large kitchen countertop or cutting board
Scimitar knife – this is a sword-like knife with a curved blade butchers use for boning and skinning; the blade must be razor-sharp to cut through the salmon’s spine and easily fillet the flesh
bucket of water or faucet with a spray nozzle for cleaning
These are the first few steps for cleaning the fish; after you’ve done them, decide whether you’re going to make a fillet for smoking or grilling, or if you’ll cut the fish into steaks.
Step 1. Cut off the ventral fins on the underside of the fish.
Step 2. Make a long cut along the underside of the fish to expose the abdominal cavity and the guts.
Step 3. On the area right behind the lower part of the head, sever the membrane that attaches the guts to the fish’s body.
Step 4. Firmly grasp the loosened guts and remove them by pulling along the underbelly.
Step 5. With a tablespoon, “scoop” out the bloodline and any blood you see in the cavity; clean out the cavity with running water.
Step 6. Remove the head, chopping it off right behind the gills and the two pectoral fins.
You can save the head as it contains a fair amount of meat in the cheeks. Use it in a stew or to make excellent fish stock.
Remember to remove the gills and any remaining entrails before freezing or stewing.
After these steps, decide on whether you want to fillet or make steaks of the fish.
Filleting the Salmon
Cutting the salmon this way allows for smoking the meat or having a quickly-seared portion. To fillet the fish, follow these steps:
Step 1. On the top of the fish, cut along the length of the fish, “skimming” just above the backbone. Make a slow, gentle “rocking” motion to cut into the flesh without damaging it.
Step 2. Make a cut across the meaty part on the base of the tail.
Step 3. Continue to gently “dig” into the cut you made on the topside of the fish.
Step 4. Keep sliding the knife into the cut, until you’ve made a “flap” from that side of the fish.
Step 5. Stop cutting the flap once you’ve butterflied the fish; turn the fish over.
Step 6. Cut along the length of the other side, also making a “rocking” motion to free the meat from the backbone.
Step 7. Make the final cut at the base of the fish to free the fillet from the rest of the fish.
Step 8. Inspect the fillet for any bones and remove them with tweezers.
“Steaking” the Salmon
Cutting the fish this way makes it possible also for smoking, but the cuts are also perfect for grilling. Just be sure that the salmon you get is big enough to make steaks.
To cut the fish this way, follow these steps:
Step 1. Find the anus or “vent” of the fish. Chop off that section just behind the vent, and fillet both sides. That part has no y-bones so it should be easy.
Step 2. Remove the dorsal and pectoral fins.
Step 3. From the back end of the fish, begin chopping the fish into steaks; make each steak about 1 to 1½ inches thick.
Step 4. Continue cutting steak-size portions until you get to the head. Depending on the size of the salmon you should end up with about 6 steaks.
Step 7. On each steak, clean out the cavity of any remaining membrane or blood.
Step 8. Save the head for stewing or making fish stock.
Cooking the Salmon
Depending on how you’ve cut the salmon, you can smoke the fillets or grill them on a cast-iron skillet with a couple of tablespoons of butter and a generous sprinkling of dill herbs and peppercorns. The steaks can likewise be smoked, or combined in a stew along with the head (see recipe sidebar).
SIMPLE SALMON STEW
Salmon steaks (include the head for added flavor)
2 small diced potatoes
¾ gallon of 2% low-fat milk
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
In a Dutch oven , combine milk, salmon, potatoes, butter and a dash of salt and pepper.
Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes. Don’t allow the mixture to boil to prevent the milk from curdling.
Remove from heat and enjoy with crackers.
Some people may be apprehensive about having catfish on the table, since these whiskered critters are bottom-feeders. To be fair, catfish are not too different from other bottom-feeders that are consumed in large quantities, like lobster, crayfish and crab. It’s possible that some people hesitate to eat catfish due to its slimy skin. That’s why, in this article we’ll show you how to prepare catfish and make it more palatable.
What you’ll need:
Sharp fillet knife
Pair of pliers
Large, clean cutting board
Gloves (to prevent getting cut by spines on the fins)
Bucket of water or faucet with spray nozzle for cleaning
After gutting and cleaning, catfish makes a good soup or stew if chopped into steaks and the skin is left on. If you want to cook catfish with the skin on, you’ll have to rub half a lemon or use warm running water to remove the slime. Alternatively, you can remove the skin and fillet the meat, then fry, sauté or bake the fish.
For a quicker, simpler meal we suggest you skin the fish and fillet it. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1. As catfish can breathe in or out of water, it may still be alive. If it is still alive, lay the catfish on its side and chop off the tail with the cleaver. Let it bleed out for few minutes, then rinse away the blood.
Step 2. While wearing gloves, use the pliers to hold the pectoral fins and the dorsal fin, then cut off the fins at the base with your fillet knife.
Step 3. Turn the fish over and look for the vent; cut into the vent with the blade facing upwards, running the blade until reaching just behind the head. Take care not to pierce or damage any of the internal organs.
Step 4. Carefully remove the guts and rinse off any blood from the cavity.
Step 5. Peel a bit of the skin from the top, then grip the flap you’ve made with the pliers; pull off the skin while gripping the pliers firmly. If some meat comes off with the skin, you can “recover” it by scraping it with the fillet knife.
Step 6. Chop off the head.
Step 7. On one side of the fish, make a cut right before the tail.
Step 8. Fillet the fish by gently “digging” the knife into the cut, and running the blade along the spine all the way to the front. Repeat on the other side of the fish.
Once you’ve made fillets from the fish, the meat is ready for deep-frying, sautéing or baking. For a quick, hearty meal, prepare an egg-and-breadcrumb batter. Dip the fillets in the batter, then fry in about an inch of preheated cooking oil in a skillet. Fry until brown, then place the fillets on paper towels to drain off excess oil.
Trout is one of America’s most commonly-caught gamefish, and is one of the healthiest fish you can include in your diet. It’s okay to consume this fish for as long as you know it’s from waters that aren’t polluted.
What you’ll need:
– A sharp knife (even one with a “regular” blade)
– Cutting board
– Barbecue grill brush
– Bucket of water or faucet with spray nozzle for cleaning
There are different ways to gut and clean trout, but this could be the quickest and simplest way to do it. With trout, you can leave the skin on and remove the scales for a milder flavor and to tone down that “fishy” smell.
To clean trout and prep it for cooking, do these steps:
Step 1. With the fish laid flat on the cutting board, vigorously brush off the scales with the grill brush.
Step 2. Holding a knife with the blade facing upward, insert the tip into the vent, then slice all the way up to the gills.
Step 3. Slice through the skin under the lower jaw, cutting through the mouth.
Step 4. Carefully insert your finger into the mouth, then hook it through the cut you made through the fish’s jaw.
Step 5. With your other hand, hold down the gills.
Step 6. Pull down firmly, removing the guts, gills and pectoral fins in one motion.
Step 7. Open up the cavity with your fingers; open up the bloodline’s membrane, then use a thumb to scrape it out.
Step 8. Rinse out the cavity of any remaining blood.
Trout can be cooked in several ways. With the way it’s easily cleaned, you can butterfly the fish and pan-fry, deep-fry, smoke or bake it. It can also be seasoned, wrapped in foil then grilled in hot coals. What’s important is that the fish be pre-seasoned, much like any other fish.
The fish in this article are but a sample of the dizzying array available you can catch and eat in the wild, and knowing how to properly clean, prep and cook them is an essential part of your survival skillset. Being able to prep and cook fresh catch enables you to make a safe and decent meal free from harmful bones, parasites and pollutants.
You're signed up for the American Outdoor Guide Boundless newsletter.
We can't wait to send you the latest tips, trends and info. Want more right now?