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Filleting gurnard – the oft forgotten art

24 August 2015
Filleting gurnard – the oft forgotten art

They go by various names, but the humble gurnard rate highly in some fishermen’s eyes. They can be suicidal, and they can be maddeningly fickle. But when winter arrives on the Manukau Harbour the gurnard fishermen get out the light rods and the flasher rigs and prepare for one of the greatest little fishing contests in the country.

The right knife

To start with the choice of knife is critical when filleting a fish like gurnard or blue cod - and you fillet, skin and bone a blue cod in exactly the same way. I have a pet knife with a thin, narrow, soft steel flexible blade that I really treasure.

It is an el cheapo that I paid about five bucks for some years ago, and it quickly responds to a few strops on the old steel. One trick is to never hone the blade to a razor sharp edge or you will cut through the thin skin every time.

If we have a large catch from several anglers I use my special knife for the filleting and boning when I really make it razor sharp, and use another flexible not so sharp one for the skinning.
Be aware of the wicked little spike just behind the gill plate of a gurnard.

That’s why I always handle them with a piece of wet towel when caught to minimize the many cuts and nicks my poor old hands seem to suffer when fishing, which can result in infected wounds.
All fish killed should be stored in an ice slurry so when it comes to filleting they are firm and in top condition.

Filleting instructions

1. Place the gurnard on a flat board and hold it firmly by the head - watch out for the spike - and slip your thumb through the gill plate.

2. Make an angled cut back towards the head through to the backbone.

3. Ensure you keep downward pressure on the blade so it sits perfectly flat and hard against the gurnard’s backbone then run the knife back towards the tail.

4. Keep the blade hard and flat against the backbone as you remove the fillet.

5. Continue to the end.

6. Flip the fillet over and cut it off at the tail.

7. Turn the fish over, and repeat the process. You now have a gurnard head and frame and guts, plus two fillets. If you remove the gills and guts you have the makings of the best tasting fish stock imaginable.When the head and frame is boiled up the juice tastes unlike any other fish stock you have ever tasted. Just ask Pete Jessup!

8. Now comes the so called tricky bit – getting rid of the bones and skin. Remember, don’t use a razor sharp knife for skinning! I place my left thumbnail firmly down on the tail end of the fillet and carefully make a flat bladed cut about one inch (25mm) along the skin.

9. Now here’s the big trick. Hold this tail section of the skin in your left hand thumb and forefinger in a firm grip and draw the skin back; at the same time “see-saw” the knife blade as you draw the skin right back to the end of the fillet. Remember you draw the skin towards you and the knife blade does not move forward. Keep the knife blade dead flat during this operation, and after a while you will get all the confidence in the world. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect.

10. Removing the bones - either use a sharp knife or give your knife a few licks on the steel. Place the tip of the knife at one end of the rib cage

11. With a downward curving motion follow the line of the rib cage and remove this with a semi-circular cut.

12. Run your finger tip from the centre of the thick end of the fillet and you will feel a line of pin bones that extends about a third of the way back towards the tail end.

13. Cut along one side.

14. Make a small V cut along the other side of the row of pin bones and remove.

15.    You now have two boneless, skinless fillets of delicious gurnard.

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