I can’t forget the day our school taught us how to fabricate fish. I already knew the basics of fish fabrication—the culinary term for butchering or cutting the fish into the desired parts you want—because at home, if the househelp’s not there and my mom forgot to have the fish fabricated before bringing it home, I have the duty to remove its gills, scales, and insides.
At first, the smell was unbearable. I had to wash my hands multiple times, even to the point of taking a bath just to remove the fishy smell. If you have a weak stomach, then this job isn’t really for you. Good thing I was used to these kinds of things.
That day in school, when all of my classmates had to fabricate a single fish, I ended up doing two. I was so confident in doing the first one that I really took my time, from scaling it to removing the bones. My instructor happened to be very strict. He even counted the bones, because some fish have specific number of bones in them. I actually took the wrong fish! What I fabricated was the fish that we’ll use for our dishes and not the fish that’s supposed to be our test. I only had a few more minutes left, and had to redo the whole thing :O
On to today’s lesson: for the beginner, my first advice is to get yourself a sharp knife. Actually, if you’re really interested in cooking, good knives are worth the investment. I collect some myself because they make my life a lot easier at the kitchen. There are other tools that you can use when scaling a fish, but I still do the old method, which is to use the back of the knife and rub it on the opposite direction of the scales.
Try practicing too on fish like tilapia and milkfish. They’re easy to fabricate and you don’t really need to remove a lot of things, unless you’re filleting them.
When you start fabricating a fish, try doing it in running water. Make sure the water’s not too powerful, just strong enough so that while gutting the fish, all the blood and other remnants will easily come out.
Removing the gills takes some force. It’s a little bit tricky because you might pull the whole head of the fish in the process. Feel it first. If the fish is fresh, you’d still see the gills and its whole diaphragm. After feeling it, give it a one pull. If not, then you can put it in running water and just remove whatever’s left inside the head.
Cutting the insides of a fish is easier than you think. Just make sure you have a sharp knife and cut a few centimeters away from the stomach itself. With milkfish, avoid cutting too near the stomach because there’s fat around it, which is a favorite among Filipinos. Again, you’ll need to feel the insides of a fish. Insert your hand into the tiny, slanted cut you made and locate the intestines, liver and stomach content of the fish. If you’re able to do so, make sure that in one pull you’ll be able to take out everything. But in case something bursts inside, like maybe the liver, don’t worry, because you can always clean it with running water.
After removing the insides, and scaling the fish, the last thing you’ll have to do is cut the fins (wings). I like to cut them because when you fry a fish, they spread and I don’t like the look of it. There are some people, though, who like to eat them, so it’s really up to you. But seriously, just cut a few centimeters off and it’ll make the fish look prettier.