If you are a newbie to handling fish, this easy 6-step guide will get you up to speed on how to properly scale clean and store fish in no time at all!
If you are lucky enough to get fresh fish all year round, like we are in Singapore, then learning how to properly scale, clean and store fish is an essential skills for every budding home cook.
First, ensure that you know what to look for when you are buying fresh fish. Are the eyes bright? Does the fish feel firm? If you are still unsure, read our complete beginners guide to what to look out for when choosing fish here. Do also read our must-have guide to the most common local fish available in Singapore, and how to identify them.
Once you have completed your purchase, the next stage is to get your clean properly cleaned fish and stored. You can do this in just 6 easy steps.
1. Thoroughly remove any remnant fish scales
Use the edge of a sharp knife to scale the fish in one direction from tail to head. Focus on the areas close to the fins of the fish, as well as around the cheek areas, which are more difficult to clean and are usually missed out by all but the most fastidious of fishmongers.
2. Thoroughly remove the gills, fish float, organs and fats around the organs
This step is pretty self explanatory, but what I want to mention is that it is important to do this BEFORE freezing the fish. If you don’t, the fish will have a fishy stale smell after it is cooked.
3. Remove the blood clots along the spine
This is CRUCIAL but often overlooked step, because these blood clots are not immediately visible. Instead they are hidden beneath a thick white membrane that covers the spine of the fish. You may even not have noticed them before until you read this article.
The blood clots MUST be removed before freezing the fish, otherwise when you cook the fish, there will be a very unpleasant smell of stale blood.
To remove the blood clots along the spine, first use a sharp knife to slit open the white membrane covering the centre bone. You will then see a thick streak of blood clots running down the spine. Use the sharp tip of the knife to dig out and remove all the blood clots from the grooves of the centre bone.
Once the blood clots have been loosened, open up the belly of the fish and carefully position only the exposed centre bone of the fish under running tap water to wash off all traces of the blood clot. As far as possible, be very careful to minimise the rest of the fish being in contact with the water.
If you are cleaning a fish steak instead of a whole fish, the same step of removing the blood clots along the spine applies. For a fish steak, the blood clots along the spine are much more obvious as you can see in the photo below: the blood clot can be found just below the round circle (the spine of the fish).
There is a little trick I love to use to get rid of the tiny blood clot – use a toothpick to gently pick out the blood clot. It should come out cleanly in one piece, so you won’t have to wash the fish steak before freezing it.
4. Do NOT wash the fish before freezing it
You should always minimise contact of the fish with water before freezing it. Otherwise when the fish is thawed, the water will draw out the sweetness from the fish, making the fish tasteless. To clean the fish before freezing it, simple wipe the surface of the fish with your hand to remove any loose scales, then pat dry with a kitchen towel.
5. Vacuum pack the fish into a ziplock bag
Place the fish in a ziplock bag and seal it, squeezing out all excess air before sealing to retain freshness. Then freeze flat. If you don’t have ziplock bags, using cling film will also work (see example below).
Once frozen, it is best to consume the fish within 2-3 weeks for maximum freshness.
6. Thaw and rinse the fish just before cooking
Again, this is self-explanatory!
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