Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fish, mayonnaise and tartare sauce

I have just learned how to fillet a whole fish!!! While I know this is a skill that many people possess, in particular, those people who are avid fishers, I have to say that I have never felt the need to know where my meat comes from and I do not need to be hacking at the whole animal, bird, or fish. I spent a lot of time watching my grandmother do that as a child and that was plenty for me.

The whole filleting a fish experience totally freaked me out. There I was, at Level 2 Cooking for Blokes class and our instructor, Jay walks in with a huge bag which he reveals to be WHOLE, UNCLEANED, UNFILLETED fish. Ugh! At the best of times, I'm not a fish fan and if it even smells remotely fishy, I am outta there like a shot. At least, these fish did not smell like fish.

Jay stands at the front of the class and demonstrates how to fillet the fish. I've donned gloves because no way am I touching that thing with my bare hands and holding onto my boning / filleting knife like my life depends on it and totally freaking out inside my head.

When it comes to my turn, because I was so busy freaking out, I had no idea what to do. Fortunately, Jay was right on hand to show me again. Long story short, I did manage to (oh ew!) fillet the fish but thank you very much! one time is plenty. I'm buying my fish already filleted. That said, when push comes to shove, I do now know how to fillet a fish.

Here are the steps:
  • Use a very sharp boning / filleting knife.
  • Cut at a 45 degree angle just below the head to the bone.
  • Make a cut just before the tail to the bone, but do not cut through the bone.
  • Turn till the top of the fish is facing you and score along the top side of the fish from top to tail.
  • Turn the fish around and do the same thing to the bottom side.
  • Then go back to the top side and slice in small strokes into the fish along the score that was already made with the knife between the bone on one side and the flesh of the fish on the other. Cut as close to the bone as possible to maximise the amount of flesh off the bone. Do that all the way to the middle of the fish to the spine of the fish.
  • Turn the fish around and repeat on the other side.
  • Remove the fillet from the fish itself. You can toss the carcass of the fish or save it for fish stock if you have enough fish bones.
  • Cut to remove all the yucky bits at the top.
  • Cut down both sides of the spine to remove the bones from the centre of the fillet.
  • You will end up with two pieces of fish.
  • Then take one piece of the fish fillet, slice into the flesh at the tail end, flesh side up, along the skin. Slice gently and as close to the skin as possible to remove the skin from the flesh of the fish.
  • Repeat for all pieces of fish.

And there you have it - a freshly filleted fish. Ugh!

We made a batter for the fish and deep fried it. The trick with the batter is to make it not too runny and throw some ice into it to keep it cold for optimum crisp in the batter when deep frying.


To make the batter:

  • A quantity of flour (depends on how much fish you have to batter)
  • Season with salt (a pinch or more if you have a lot of batter to make)
  • Beer or mineral water
  • Handful of ice

  • Put flour and salt into a mixing bowl
  • Pour in small quantities of the beer or mineral water and mix until it is thick and doughy
  • Add handful of ice
  • Continue adding small quantities of beer or mineral water and mixing until you get a smooth, slightly thick texture (the batter will continue to thin as the ice continues to melt, but the ice does not need to be melted when the batter is done)

To fry the fish, you flour the fish (which basically means cover all sides of the fish with flour, heat oil to 180 degrees C and test that it is hot enough before putting the fish in. When the fish is covered in batter, slowly put about 1/3 to almost 1/2 of the fish in the hot oil and wave it around gently so that the part in the oil starts to cook for about 10 to 15 seconds before letting go and immersing the whole piece of fish into the oil. This will make certain that the fish will float to the surface and not stick to the bottom of the pot. Cook until a golden brown, remove from oil onto a tray lined with kitchen paper towels and sprinkle with salt while still hot. Eat with sauce of your choice. We made tartare sauce to go with the fish.

Here's the RECIPE for the tartare sauce:

Ingredients for basic mayonnaise:
  • 2 egg yolks at room temperature (this is very important. If your eggs are cold, they will not combine!!!)
  • 300ml oil (grapeseed, canola, sunflower or any oil that is without color and taste - DO NOT use olive oil)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

Ingredients for tartare sauce:
  • 1 teaspoon of mini capers
  • 6 small cornichons - diced into small pieces
  • Juice of a quarter of a lemon
  • Pinch of lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped parsley
  • Pinch of salt to taste

Instructions to make basic mayo:
  • Put egg yolks into mixing bowl
  • Add Dijon mustard, salt and pepper
  • Begin to drizzle oil into bowl while whisking gently (you can also do with this an electric mixer which makes is so much easier!!!) until the eggs and oil combine and begin to emulsify
  • Continue with oil until all of it is gone (as you proceed, the oil can go in faster and you can whisk faster)

For tartare sauce:
  • Add all the tartare sauce ingredients into 3 heaped tablespoons of the basic mayo and mix together
  • Add salt to taste

That's it! Fresh battered fish with homemade tartare sauce. We didn't have any hot chips to go with the fish, just 'cos we didn't make any.

For me though, if I want fish and chips, I think I'll go to a restaurant 'cos I'm not crazy about the whole seafood thing, but that tartare sauce is damned good and they don't make that as well in the restaurant. For all I know, they might not even make it themselves and the tartare sauce comes out of a jar, which would explain why most of it is pretty tasteless.

© This work is copyrighted to Invest-Ex and Destiny’s Fortunes Pty Ltd


  1. Yummy! Love fish! It would probably be a little disconcerting to have the eye looking at you the whole time you are filleting, but I read somewhere that people should be willing to do the whole process if they are willing to eat the final product.

  2. I'm willing to bypass the process and still eat the final product. :-) I'm quick glad to not know where it came from.

  3. You're welcome, Monica. The ice helps the batter to crisp nicely when it hits the oil.