methods & madness…
class 9: fish – 
farming, filleting & floundering


Recipes & Ramblings from Chef School

I grew up on a farm in Iowa. We raised cows, pigs and chickens, but no fish. Even though there are 25,000 identified species of fish, the only ones that made it to Iowa were frozen, breaded and slapped on a plastic tray in the lunch line. Sadly, that was my sole culinary fish experience as a child.

Hook, Line and Sinker

Fishing was a different story. I learned that from my Grandmother. She said all you need to fish is a tree branch (rod), fishing line, a safety pin (hook), freshly caught grasshoppers (bait) and the patience of Job. I am not sure if it was catching the grasshoppers or just listening to Grandmother’s stories that I loved most. I was always grateful that we didn’t catch any fish for fear of having to cut and clean them.

Whole Salmon

Fish Fears

Today’s class confirmed those fish filleting fears. I was floundering at the sight of the dead fish in front of me. Filleting is a messy job best left to a fishmonger. But for the brave of heart, or culinary student… it is possible.

Filleting a SalmonFor a video on how to fil­let a whole salmon click here.

Rona successfully skinned her fish in class to make “Black Cod with a Miso Glaze served with Ginger Stir Fried Bok Choy”. Click here for that recipe.

 black cod fillet

Why Fish? 

Fish is high in protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega 3 fatty acids. Eating fish can reduce problems associated with PMS, memory loss, cardiovascular functions, colon cancer, and stroke.

Types of Fin Fish

  • Round— has a middle backbone with one fillet on either side, and one eye on each side of its head.
  • Flat—has a backbone running through the center of fish, both eyes are on the same side of the head.
  • Non-Boney—has cartilage rather than bones.

Fish are also categorized by their activity levels of low, medium and high. The more a fish swims the flesh will be darker, the oil content higher, and the flavor stronger. 

Identifying Fish

  • Flat—halibut, turbot, sole, flounder
  • Low Activity Round—haddock, pollock, cod
  • Medium Activity Round—pike, grouper, yellowtail, snapper, sea bass
  • High Activity Round—salmon, trout, arctic char, tuna
  • Non-Boney—sturgeon, monkfish, sword fish
  • Other fish—eel, catfish, anchovy, sardine, tilapia 

Best Cooking Techniques  

  • Active fish have firm flesh, and are oilier with a stronger taste. They are good for grilling, sautéing, poaching, steaming, roasting—not good for deep-frying.
  • Low Active fish are mild, lean, flaky and have a delicate flavor. They are great for sautéing, deep-frying, broiling, grilling, poaching, steaming and baking—not good for grilling.

Sustainable Fish

If you want to know how to select a sustainable fish click here to read my blog titled
“The Seafood Saga… 6 things to know before you buy”.

salmon head

How to buy Fish – Use Your Senses

  • Look. It should have shiny and taught skin with no discolored patches. If you are buying a whole fish, eyes should be clear and full, fins should not be torn. If there is any liquid on the meat it should be clear, not milky. Milky liquid on a fillet is the first stage of rot.
  • Smell. A fresh fish should smell like the ocean or seaweed. Don’t buy a nasty smelling fish. Cooking won’t improve it and your cats won’t eat it either… don’t ask.
  • Touch. If you can touch the fish, it should have a dense quality. If it is full of moisture it should spring back when you touch it. If my fingerprint remains, I move on to the beef department.

Class Assignment

I was assigned grilled tuna.  It was super easy to make. This would also be great served over spicy greens.

Dry Rubbed Grilled Tuna with Orzo Salad

From New School of Cooking
Serves 6-8

Orzo Salad Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb. orzo, cooked and cooled
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • 1 T. mint, roughly chopped
  • 1 T. dill, roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • 3 oz. feta cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook the orzo in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain. Once orzo has cooled, toss with remaining ingredients and serve.
tuna rub

Dry Rubbed Grilled Tuna 


  • 1 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. finely minced thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs albacore fillet


Distribute the rub over the fish fillets.  Grill 8-10 minutes per inch. Drizzle with a little olive oil and serve with the orzo.

Did you know?

There are more species of fish than all the species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals combined. And guess what… they all eat fish.

Fish and Fisheries cited over 500 research papers on fish intelligence, proving that fish are smart, and have impressive long-term memories and sophisticated social structures.

Fish appear to be smarter than cats, or at least this one.

Now that you’ve been entertained,  I’m off to fry other fish.
…and then she paused for thought

Hope you have enjoyed our adventure in the culinary classroom. Join us each week as we continue learning new culinary skills.

You can also read about Rona’s experience on her blog or What’s Cookin online magazine.

Subscribe to She Paused for Thought by Email


About Cathy Arkle

Cathy Arkle is a food blogger, culinary explorer, graphic artist, and cooking class junkie. Her inspirations come from her travels across the globe (50 countries) in the last 20+ years partaking in various ethnic cuisines while working as a graphic artist for major networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX & ESPN). She has collected a few Emmys in the field of graphic design for sports & entertainment. Cathy is also a graduate of the Pro Chef courses at The New School of Cooking in Culver City, CA

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3 Responses to methods & madness…
class 9: fish – 
farming, filleting & floundering

  1. Tina Winters December 16, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    You fish fryer you…

  2. Lynne @ CookandBeMerry December 17, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    When I was a kid in Minnesota, fish caught in fresh water lakes was the only fish we ate. In the winter we caught them in a little house sitting on the ice. I really appreciate it now that I can go to the market and buy them already dressed. Your Tuna on Orzo Salad looks delicious. I like mine pink in the middle, too.

    • cathyarkle December 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

      Oh My… I am so glad my Grandmother only fished in the summer! I am not sure I would of survived fishing in Minnesota.

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