How to fillet an eel

How to fillet an eel

Eel isn't perhaps the most common ingredient to work with in the home kitchen, but as with all fish and seafood freshness is key. To ensure ultimate freshness, it always helps if you can buy the fish whole and fillet it at home yourself. Eel is a key component of many Japanese dishes (in particular freshwater eel known as unagi), so if you're planning to grill eel at home being able to fillet it is key.

Endo Kazutoshi is one of the finest Japanese chefs in the UK, and he of course fillets all the eels he works with himself. The steps and instructions below show you how he does it. Having an incredibly sharp knife is vital to clean, neat filleting.

After you've successfully filleted your eel, take a look at Endo's grilled unagi recipe below, or any of our other eel recipes. 

Ingredients

  • 1 eel, approx. 1kg
1

Place the eel on a long chopping board with its back facing towards you and (if you have one) nail a spike through the top of the neck into the board to prevent the eel moving around as you fillet it

2

Slide a small knife into the neck, just behind the gills. Cut down from the top until you reach the spine, ensuring most of the skin around the spine is cut through. Tilt the knife at a 45º angle so the blade is flat against the spine and carefully slice the fillet all the way along to the tail, using the spine as a marker

3

Pull back the top fillet to expose the spine and guts within

4

Carefully peel away the guts, then gently release them from the body with a small knife, ensuring not to cut anything open which will spill out and spoil the flesh

 

5

Place the guts to one side. There aren’t many uses for eel guts in cooking, so they are generally discarded

6

Return to the fish. Cut alongside the other side of the spine (which should be the side furthest away from you), staying as close to the bone as possible. Use the top of your knife (so not the sharp edge) to help release the flesh from the bone without cutting into it

7

Insert your knife between the bottom of the spine and the fish and gently start cutting the spine away from the body, severing it from the head

8

Leave the spine attached at the tail end of the eel

9

Begin slicing the top off the fillet nearest to you to trim away the fins. Set the spine and this strip of fin aside – the spine can be used in stocks or soups, but the fin should be discarded

10

Sever the head from the body and discard or save for stock. You should now have a filleted eel, with the head, spine and guts separated

11

Wash and clean the eel fillet in cold water

12

Pat the fillet dry. It is now ready to be used in cooking

Eel