How to Debone Fish

It only takes a couple minutes if you do it right.

removing-fish-bones
Photo by Melinda Josie

Most fillets from the freezer aisle or the fish counter come deboned. But sometimes a few pesky, minuscule bones—called pinbones—remain. And if you’re going all out and filleting a whole fish (more power to you!), you’ll need to debone along the entire length of each fillet.

First, grab a pair of fish tweezers (available at most kitchenware stores). These stainless steel fish tweezers with wide, rectangular ends are the most effective at grasping the tiny, slippery bones. Needle-nose pliers can also be used, just make sure their inner surface isn’t grooved (the bones will slip through). If you’re in a pinch, a pair of clean cosmetic tweezers will work, too.

Locate pinbones by placing the fillet skin-side down on a surface and running your finger up and down the length of it. The bones are usually towards the center of the fillet, where it gets thicker. Each needle-thin pinbone can be about a half inch long, but will be mostly buried in the fillet with only the tip exposed at the surface.

To make pinbones easier to grasp, try this quick trick: Place a small mixing bowl upside down on the counter and drape the fillet over it with the skin-side down. The curved surface will make the bones pop up. Then, gently pull each pinbone straight out.

For easy cleanup, keep a small bowl of water nearby as you work, and dip your tweezers in to discard the pinbones, which have a tendency to cling to tweezers or your fingers when you try to brush them away.

Finally, run your finger down the length of the fillet one last time to make sure you haven’t missed any. Now you’re ready to get cooking!