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Is it 'fresher' and therefore maybe tastier to fillet a fish right before cooking, or is buying a fillet just as good?

In other words; is there any difference in quality between a fillet that has been a fillet for a while (at the fish market) vs. a freshly cut fillet, assuming both fish were caught and held under the same circumstances?

  • That would depend entirely on the competence of the person filleting at home, I'd think. – PoloHoleSet Dec 5 '16 at 17:57
  • It's one of the better excuses to own a deba :) – rackandboneman Dec 6 '16 at 17:06
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When you cut any food you expose the cut surface to oxygen, which causes chemical changes due to oxidation. You also expose the cut surface to microbes and organisms which break down food. Both of these will impact the quality of cut meat or fish, so yes a filet cut from a whole fish just before cooking would be fresher and better quality than one cut some time before.

The effect is not great, however. If you had a whole fish and cut one filet from it the day before, then cut the other filet just before cooking both identically I doubt you would be able to tell any difference between the two.

To me the reasons for buying a whole fish as opposed to filets is cost and choice. A whole fish is easier to judge for quality than a filet, you can see whether the eyes are cloudy or clear, for instance. Buying a whole fish is cheaper than buying the filets off of it because it's much less work for the seller, so you can save some cash doing it yourself.

However, fileting a fish is not that easy. It's perfectly do-able at home and there's loads of how-to videos but it's still pretty involved and hard to do that well without lots of practice. It's also messy time consuming, so when you buy filets it's for the convenience of not having to do it yourself. The important thing is to make sure it's fresh whether it's whole or already prepped.

  • 1
    For some fresh water fish (bluegill, crappie, perch, northern pike, walleye), I think the taste/texture is best when when it is fileted at most 24 hours before cooking. This allows the fish to be submerged into salt water, which can remove some of the fishiness from the taste and change the texture of the fish. Usually, I fry these fish so I'm not sure that it really makes a huge difference. – USER_8675309 May 11 '16 at 12:17
  • This is a good point, sometimes fileting improves things. I'll update once I get the chance. – GdD May 11 '16 at 12:53
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    Note that where I live it's common to choose a whole fish and have the fishmonger filet it for you on the spot, giving you the best of both words (and you can ask to keep the grates and head as suggested in the other answer). – Relaxed May 11 '16 at 19:07
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If you buy a fillet, you don't get the bones. Cooking fish (or any other meat) on the bone often gives better results, both in flavor and texture, than cooking it off the bone. I've found that especially true for whole fish, cooking it whole is much more forgiving that cooking boneless fillets. Alternatively, the bones can be used to make a fumet (fish stock), which you can use as the base for a sauce or for another dish entirely. Fish skin makes a nice accoutrement as well if you take a bit of time to make it completely crisp, you usually don't get the skin either if you buy fillets.

If the appearance of the fillet on the plate is more important, cooking it on the bone and filleting afterwards is not a great option, it's pretty hard to remove a nice fillet from the fish skeleton and keep it intact on its way to the plate, they're very delicate after cooking.

  • This is interesting but doesn't actually answer the question. – GdD May 12 '16 at 7:51
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No, not much of a quality difference as you usually only want to eat fish within 1-2 days of it being caught. The main quality difference is the skill of the person filleting the fish. (IMO it's not that hard to get a grip in fish anatomy/filleting. There are two main types: Round and Flat fish)

One consideration, if you eat the skin from the fillet and prefer the fish to be descaled - then it's much easier to descale a whole fish than a fillet.

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Depends how well you trust your fishmonger! Speaking as an ex professional fish filleter in Australia I can assure you that many fishmongers fillet old fish because it is easy to pass it off as 'fresh' (most shoppers can't tell the difference). I just wrote about this issue here:

Buying whole fish and filleting it yourself

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