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Whitefish Fishing 2: Preparing the Fish

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The European whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus) is a salmonid and largely has the same bone structure as the other in the genus. Unlike brown trout and arctic char it has large scales, so it needs more preparation before cooking than the aforementioned. Removing the scales is mainly a matter of cleanliness as they tend to make an unappetising mess out of any dish.

It is helpful, but not necessary to have a board when scaling whitefish. The scaling can be done with a sharp bone like here or a dull knife. Too sharp knives can easily dig into the skin and will be annoying to work with. Scrape the fish as fresh as possible. Any dryness of the skin will make it significantly harder/impossible to scrape them. Also, scrape them before gutting, otherwise it will be next to impossible to scrape the belly portion of the skin in the belly section.

The fish is held by the head and scraped against the scales. Do this until the fish is virtually scale free.


If you want a cleaner job, you can rinse the fish free of scales before you continue, but I often only rinse after having both scaled and gutted. Start by inserting the tip of the knife into the anus and cut up the belly up to the throat.


The last part towards the throat is ripped apart and the gills are separated from the flesh portion of the fish.


If I am working as speedily as possible and not saving any of the guts, then I will omit these next steps and just rip out the guts including the gills from the front, but since I am here taking care of a few things, I disconnect the anus to make for easier access.


Next I remove the liver, taking care to pinch off the gall bladder.


If there is sufficient quantity of roe or milt (as in this male fish) I pull those out as well.


Sometimes there is a lot of white fat stuck to the guts. If there is I pinch that off as well. If the fish is large I might cut open the stomach and clean it (tastes like squid) and also save the heart.

Next I pull the guts out. In this particular case I removed the swim bladder first and then pulled the guts out the front. However, I often do both at the same time, pulling towards the back.


The black portion along the spine (the kidneys) is scraped out with my thumbnail.


Last the fish is rinsed in water. This is most easily done many fish together in a willow basket. It can now be cooked, dried or salted. If they are to be frozen, they keep better only scraped, not gutted. Short term storage in a plastic bag or threading the head onto a thin tree branch is unproblematic. Especially in cold conditions.


This might seem like a long process and as you are learning it it might take a while. However, since I have prepared thousands of fish this way it takes me probably less than a minute in total per fish. If I don’t save any of the innards, then probably around 30 seconds.

From lakes with little parasites I often eat the innards raw. This particular lake has quite a bit of parasites so I fry them first. I discard all livers with discolouration.


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