I went to a fishmonger for the first time yesterday and I have a few basic questions. Should the place smell like fish? I have been informed that it should not smell like fish and if it did they did not keep a clean and fresh store. It should be a pleasant smell. I bought a pound of mahi mahi and a pound of rockfish both fillets. I had to scale and debone the mahi mahi and debone the rockfish. It wasn't like there where a lot of bones or or scales it just looks like they got lazy and didn't finish the job.

I am trying to prepare more fish dishes and it took me almost an hour to clean those fish having not done those particular tasks before, but with small kids I wanted to be methodical about it. So I guess this a multi-part question; Are my expectations to high for my fishmonger, should I have asked him to do those tasks and not assumed they would have been done? The second part is there a good reference to deboning and cleaning fish, what is the best way to remove the skin? I hacked at it with my pairing knife and a pair of wire pliers.

  • 3
    Seems on-topic enough for me. Ingredient selection and preparation.
    – Bob
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 15:43
  • I edited out the verification of topic request. Thanks for the support.
    – Varuuknahl
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 17:38

3 Answers 3


It's common for a few bones to be left behind, so you should always check over the fish before cooking. I use a pair of small pliers to pull out any leftovers. It shouldn't take an hour to clean, though. Any leftover scales should come off with a quick rinse. If the fillet was supposed to be de-boned and scaled, and there were a lot of bones left and scales still attached, that's a bit of a problem.

Did the fish itself smell bad, or was it just the store that had an odor? Did the store just smell a bit "fishy", or did it smell like an environmental disaster? If you're not used to working with fish, you may be a bit sensitive to the smell. Once you get the fish home, you should not smell any off-odors on the fillets.

If you weren't impressed, I would just try to find another place and see if you like it better. It's not a bad thing to have high expectations, and you should find a fishmonger that you're happy with.

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    The fish did not smell at all, it was just the store that was off. I am definitely not used to working with fish my limited fish experience has been frozen at the local mega-market prior to moving to a coastal city.
    – Varuuknahl
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 17:21

I'm not sure what's considered normal as I've only been two one or two fishmongers in my life, but I live about 30 minutes outside Philadelphia (very suburban, not city-like at all) and have found a local guy that I love and visit every week. He always skins and de-bones my fish for me. In fact, many of his more common fillets are often prepared/portioned in the morning so I don't even have to wait for him to do it. Buying whole fish, of course, is another story. For what it's worth, his place doesn't smell like raw fish/the ocean, but he also cooks fish dinners in there so that might be why.

As for removing fish skin, the best way I've found is to start a small cut, then, making sure the fish is skin-side up, hold on to the skin so gravity makes the meat of the fish kind of hang. Then you should be able to easily work your paring knife between the skin and the meat. Pretty easy once you see it done a few times - I saw Alton Brown do it in an episode but forget which one - if I can find it I will come back and edit it into this post.


Did you talk to your fishmonger about how you were planning to prepare the fish? There are some times where you may want a fish that isn't fully cleaned and d-boned. If the person behind a counter knew you were going to serve it to kids they it was totally his fault, find a new place. As far as the smell, I've never found a fish place with no smell, what is important is that the fish you are buying has no smell, fresh fish will not smell 'fishy' even if the store does.

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    One of the problems of today's pre-packaged supermarkets is that we forget that there's someone behind the counter who can trim / debone / whatever for us. (and as they do it all the time, they're much faster at it). And they can give recommendations on what's good that day; most people go in looking for an ingredient for a recipe they've already found in advance, without considering if that ingredient's available/local/in season/etc.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 22:44

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