Last night, Papa made pecan-crusted rainbow trout with citrus butter from one of his and Mama’s favorite restaurants. (It was really yummy. You could taste the citrus, and the fish had a delicate crust.) Mama brought home fillets with the skin on, and I thought I’d show you how simple it is to remove, in case that sort of thing makes you squeamish. You can always ask the fishmonger (isn’t that a funny word?) to do it for you, or choose skinless varieties, but don’t let a little skin on a fish keep you from trying it!
Start with a cutting board and a sharp knife—not a serrated one. A boning knife is ideal, but Mama likes using her chef’s knife for most things. If your fillet is really thick, like from a fat old salmon, lay an edge of the fillet flush with the edge of the cutting board closest to you. This is less important if you have a skinny fillet, but Mama still likes to line them up. Position the tail (narrow) end toward your non-dominant hand. Mama’s left handed, so the tail is toward her right.
About ½” from the tail, take your knife and put a little notch in the tail, in the direction of the tail’s tip. Mama’s cutting a wee tab, heading toward the right, or the tip.
Now pivot your knife so it’s headed in the opposite direction. Keep it in that notch you just made. You made it just for this purpose! Because fish are slippery, use a paper towel (or kitchen towel if you don’t mind) and grip the tail (the tip on the other side of your freshly made notch) between your thumb and first finger. Mama uses the side of her knuckle, but do whatever feels most comfortable. You need to get a good grip. Her knife is now facing left, toward the body of the fillet.
Now comes the amazing part. With the tail gripped in your non-dominant hand, and your knife’s blade at an angle (think of a shovel moving snow), pull the tail in one direction while pushing your knife in the other.
For Mama, she’s pulling the tail toward her right and pushing her knife toward her left, while skimming her knife along the inside of the skin. She’s basically scraping the flesh off the skin, but really, it’s the pulling of the tail that’s doing most of the work.
And that’s it! It took longer to take these pictures than it did to skin the remaining fillets. Those bits of silver don’t amount to much and will essentially cook off. (They’re not hunks of scales, if that’s what you’re worried about.)
This method works on any size fillet. If you try this technique and you find that it’s just not working, Mama suggests a sawing, back-and-forth motion with your knife instead of pulling. This is where you’ll want your fillet and cutting board edges lined up so you can see where your knife is going—you want it to remain as parallel to the cutting board as possible so you’re not leaving unfortunate chunks of fish on the skin.
Incidentally, Mama grilled asparagus (love it!), sweet peppers (yucky!), and fresh peaches picked from a local farm (wow!) to serve with the buttery fish. I liked this dinner very much.