Kitchen Secrets: How To Breakdown a Whole Salmon

June 28, 2014

It’s salmon season, which means a lot of fresh and beautiful wild salmon is available in our markets. Buying the whole fish is much less expensive than buying fillets or steaks, but that leaves you to the task of breaking it down yourself. Don’t have your butcher do it as they’ll just toss (or sell) a lot of the best parts like the head (there’s some great meat in there perfect for tartare or mousse, plus the head makes for fabulous fish stock), the collar (tender, succulent meat hides out in the collar - grill it up!), the tail (also great for making fish stock), and the spine and ribs (scrape off the meat for tartare or mousse as well).

In this episode of Foodista’s Kitchen Secrets, Chef Bobby Moore from the Barking Frog in Woodinville, Washington shows us how to breakdown a whole salmon. First, you’ll need a few essential tools:

A clean kitchen towel
A sharp boning knife
A large scimitar (or cimeter) knife
Tweezers for removing pin bones

Watch the short video below and be sure and subscribe to Foodista's Kitchen Secrets here for more culinary tips and tricks.

Learn How to Pan Sear Salmon With the Skin On to Perfection here.
Learn How To Pan Sear Skinless Salmon Fillets to Perfection here.


Video Transcription

Hi, my name is Bobby Moore. I'm the executive chef of the Willows Lodge, here in beautiful wine country Woodinville, Washington. We have the Barking Frog Restaurant on premise and also Fireside.

Today, we are gonna learn how to break down a salmon. And so let's...come on with me. These are king salmon that we brought in from the Columbia River. We bring 'em in whole. You can see that this fish right here is just gorgeous, really nice clear eyes. So that you can tell that we're getting the freshest, most beautiful product available.

Let's get going. We want to take the head off first, so you want to come right underneath the fin here, all right? Just cut that here and you want to come down with a nice, sharp boning knife right around the cheek here. Turn this beautiful fish over. And then I'm gonna go under the collar and kind of meet where we started on the other side. And just go right through that bone, take that off. To get the head meat out of here, we scrape it with a spoon. We'll try to use every single bit of the fish from the head to the tail.

We're going to filet this. I'm just gonna turn this here. I have this really nice, large scimitar knife. I definitely want to have a knife that can get through the whole fish, here. Now what we're going to do here is we're going to get right onto the spine here with the knife. And I'm just gonna push. You want to hold this flap here and you want to make sure you keep your hands out of the way. So a lot of times, I'll use a towel on top. Just so if the knife does slip, it's going to hit this towel and it's not going to cut right through my hand. Just nice and smooth. Just keep pushing, kind of a rocking action. I want to make sure you're getting into that belly over there. Okay, just slowly pushing down, keeping the knife flat on the cartilage, on that bone. Oh, that's a gorgeous, gorgeous cut. There really are no true rules when you're butchering your salmon. Some people will flip it over and do the bone this way.

I like to see what I'm doing here, so what I'll do is after I take that top one off, I'll just go right in on top of this spine right here. And now I'm pushing up and having some nice force going all the way with a rocking sensation here, all the way to the tail. We're going to take a spoon - look at all that meat - you don't want to waste that. You can make a little salmon mousse with that. You can do a little appetizer for your friends when they come over.

Okay, so now we have the filet. So we're just gonna come underneath the bones here, and we're gonna just follow kind of the natural progression of how the fish is. We're just coming down, we're following the bones, that ribcage here. All right, so then this we'll take off. We can scrape that also.

Now it's time to switch knives. And we're just gonna take that belly off there. Just cutting down, and lay that in a pan and put it on a smoker, and smoke it. It would be really nice. There's still part of the cartilage from the bone left on there. I come under that bone, work my way back here, then I lift this up. Just follow - I kind of lift - I try to do it in one piece. Sometimes it works out; sometimes it doesn't, all right? It's just my little challenge to myself. You can see right here if you take your knife and you go like this gently, you'll see all these pin bones sticking up. And I'll take some tweezers. There it is. So there's the pin bones. We'll just go down the line and take all those pin bones out. Now that we have all the pin bones out, remove that tail piece.

Then I want to show you a nice portion of some skin on salmon. All right, isn't that gorgeous? Look at that skin.

And that's how we filet a salmon here at the Barking Frog.