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11/02/2011 03:48 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

How To De-Bone A Whole Cooked Fish

To demonstrate the technique of removing the bones from a whole cooked fish, chef Doug Miller from The Culinary Institute of America starts with a cooked Mediterranean sea bass. Using a fork and a spoon, he gently removes the head, lifting up the fork to break it at the spine. Then he slides the fork underneath the bone that sits in front of the gills to remove it. Next, he breaks off and discards the tail piece. The two top and one bottom dorsal fins are next to go -- he simply pulls them out with the fork.

Then, using his spoon, he works his way down the middle of the fish, splitting the fillets in half. After he separates the top fillet from the ribcage, he lays them open, then lifts the spine right off the bottom fillet. After folding the top fillets back over the bottom, he plates the fish with the fork and spoon. (You can certainly use a spatula.) Tuck any remaining fish underneath to make the fish look whole again to the best of your ability, then garnish with herbs and lemon.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Maitre d' Instructor Doug Miller, from the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm going to show you this kitchen basic: how to debone a cooked fish.

I have in front of me a branzini, which is a Mediterranean bass. I am also going to utilize a fork and a spoon. This is the classic way of deboning a fish that you would see in a finer restaurant.

To prepare the fish I took some thyme, lemon, salt, pepper, and a little bit of olive oil. I put the thyme and the lemon inside the fish, and then put it in the oven. Now, I'm going to start off with a fork and a spoon in my hand. I'm going to start by taking the head off - I'm lifting up the fork, and it will break right at the spine. I have a plate on the side that I'll utilize to discard all my portions. I'll then slide my fork underneath and get rid of the rest of the front part of the fish, which will be the bone that sits right behind the gills. Then I'll go to the back end of the fish and break off the tail, and again I'm going to discard the tail piece. Once I'm done with that, I'm going to go inside and I'm going to pull out the bottom dorsal, which will come out in one long piece, and then I'm going to repeat that with the two sets of top dorsals that are on the fish.

Now that I've removed the top and bottom dorsal fins, I'm going to utilize my spoon as a knife and I'm going to split down the center of the fish. You'll see a small line, and as I work my spoon along it I'm splitting the fillets in half, straight down to the end of the fish. I'm going to take that fillet and gently pull it off the ribcage, and then I'm going to do the second half and I'll lay that open. We'll remove the last of the garnish that I had inside the fish, and once I've pulled the fillet off I'm going to take my spine and lift it right up off the bottom fillet. So then I have my spine, and I discard it.

Once the spine is removed you're going to split your bottom fillet in half, and you're going to take your top fillets and fold them back over the top. At this point I'm going to go ahead and start to plate my fish. If you're uncomfortable using a fork and spoon, you can use a kitchen spatula to transfer your fish.

I'll slide my fork and spoon underneath and move the entire fish to a clean plate. I'm going to take the last little pieces of fish and I'm just going to tuck them up underneath, because you're trying to compose the fish to look whole again, to the best of your ability. From there you can garnish your fish, with a couple of lemon slices if you like, or you can use cherry tomatoes. I have some herbs, so I"ll put some herbs on there for a little color. And that's how you debone a fish.

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