Catfish are a delicious fish to eat, with dozens of different recipes you can try from Cajun Blackened Catfish to fresh fried bite-sized bits.
Catfish come in a ton of different sizes, and preparing one yourself can be an intimidating process if you don’t know how.
You could buy farmed catfish fillets from the grocery store, but there’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh-caught catfish prepared the same day.
The good news is that filleting a catfish isn’t actually a difficult process, no matter how intimidating. Using an electric knife can make the process even easier, and I’ll cover everything you need to know to produce perfect catfish fillets.
Not sure what kind of catfish you’re working with? This catfish identification guide will help if you’re curious.
What You’ll Learn in this Guide:
- How an Electric Knife Helps Fillet Catfish
- How to Fillet a Catfish
- The Different Edible Sections of Catfish
- And Much More!
What's in this Guide?
What Are The Benefits of Using an Electric Knife to Fillet Catfish
Electric knives are still less common than their powerless counterparts, but catfish anglers know how helpful these modern tools can be.
Using an electric knife gives you more options for filleting your catfish, and also makes it easier to remove the head and cut through any bones.
Using an electric knife also makes the whole process a lot faster. You’ll be able to cut through the fish quickly and efficiently. Since the knife is doing most of the work, you also won’t need nearly as much pressure, which also makes the whole process a lot safer.
The less pressure you need with a knife, the less likely you are to lose control and accidentally hurt yourself.
Since there are electric fillet knives that are designed specifically to help fillet catfish, you can also accomplish the entire cleaning process with just one knife.
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What You Need To Know About Filleting a Catfish with an Electric Knife
Filleting a catfish is a relatively simple process, but there are a few things you do need to know before you get started.
In addition to making sure you remove all the ribs from your catfish fillets, you’ll also need to remove the skin. Unlike some other types of fish, you don’t want to leave the skin on the side of the fillet as it’s strongly flavored. Not in a good way.
If you’ve never had catfish before, this helpful taste chart includes both store bought and fresh caught catfish compared with several other common types of angler fish in the United States.
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for red meat inside the catfish.
Catfish red meat also has a significantly stronger flavor than the white meat. Most people find red catfish meat unpleasant, so you’ll want to avoid including the red meat in your fillet.
There are two common places you’ll find red meat inside a catfish: along the lateral line, and right next to the skin. You may also see small sections of red meat inside the fillet, but they’ll usually be toward the edges where you can easily cut them away.
You should also look for fatty sections of the catfish. These will also often be near the edges of your catfish fillets, and are visibly greasier than the rest of the catfish.
Those fatty areas are where a lot of the strongest flavors in the catfish are stored, and many people think they taste worse than the red meat.
Cutting them out of your fillets is easy. However, both the red meat and the fattier areas of the catfish are edible, so you can keep them if you don’t mind the stronger taste. Some more heavily spiced recipes for catfish can also help to cover the flavor.
Frying your catfish can also help cover up the flavor of fattier catfish, if you can’t quite cut all of it away.
Supplies You’ll Need To Fillet a Catfish With an Electric Knife
The biggest thing you need to fillet catfish is space. They come in a huge range of sizes, and bigger catfish have lots of edible meat, but require a lot of space to clean.
If you don’t have a lot of space in your kitchen, you may want to use a folding table or a work table to give yourself enough room.
You’ll also want to have a sink or a hose nearby to help rinse off the finished fillets.
Of course, you’ll also need an electric knife, some catfish, and a trash can or trash bag. You’ll want to be able to dispose of the catfish remains outside your home, since catfish smells more than most other fish. In summary, you’ll need the following:
- Plenty of Space to Work In
- Running Water (Preferably a Sink)
- An Electric Fillet Knife
- A Trash Can or Loose Trash Bag
- A Bowl Plate Or Dish to Hold Finished Fillets
- A Large Cutting Board
- Fin Clippers (optional)
What Are The Different Ways to Fillet a Catfish with an Electric Knife
There are a couple different ways to fillet a catfish. The biggest differences are how big you want the fillets to be, and whether you’re okay with a couple uneven cuts to remove unwanted parts of the catfish.
If you want perfect fillets, and the largest possible fillets from your catfish, you’ll need to remove the head and fins of the catfish before filleting it.
If you’d prefer a quicker process, and don’t mind the fillets being slightly less than even, you can just use your electric knife to carve out several smaller fillets instead of only a couple large ones.
For that method you don’t need to remove the head, and you’ll mostly cut around the fins, so you won’t need to worry about them either. However, since some techniques make you cut through the catfish ribs, you may dull your electric knife more.
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How To Fillet a Catfish with an Electric Knife (5 Steps)
I’m going to go through the whole process to fillet a catfish, but if you want the quick method you can skip removing the head and fins. You’ll just need to start cutting a little lower under the gills.
Cutting through or around the ribs is your choice, but cutting around them does take a little more control.
Step 1: Remove the Head and Fins
The first step is to take off your catfish head and fins. While you can eat the heads of some fish, catfish aren’t generally a fish you want to eat that way.
Catfish heads don’t have as much meat as some other fish. It’s also mostly fatty meat and red meat, which is much more strongly flavored. Since you won’t get much meat from the head it’s not usually worth trying to save it.
The cleanest and easiest way is to cut just behind the gills. Use your electric fillet knife to make it easier to cut through the backbone.
If you cut in front of the pectoral fins, go ahead and cut them off. You can also use a pair of clippers to remove the fins instead of doing so with the electric knife. Electric knives work just as well, so it depends entirely on which tool you prefer.
Step 2: Cut the Tail Fillet
Now that the head and fins are removed, the next step is to cut the tail fillet. If you skipped removing the head and fins, start this fillet below the gill on your catfish (and also below the pectoral fin).
You have three ways to cut this fillet:
- Cut the largest possible fillet around the ribs
- Cut the largest possible fillet by cutting through the ribs
- Cut a slightly smaller fillet, starting below the ribs
The largest fillet will come from cutting from the ribs down to the tail. The easiest method is to cut through the ribs with your electric knife. If you’re a little more skilled, you can cut around the ribs instead, which is more efficient.
You can cut an easier but smaller fillet by starting your cut below the ribs instead of above them.
No matter what method you choose, make a slight diagonal cut into the fish until you reach the centerline (the bones along the spine). Then cut along the center line until you reach the tail of the fish. Separate the last section of fish from the rest, freeing the section you’ve cut loose.
This is the first fillet. If you cut through the ribs instead of around them, there will be a small section of the fillet that still has the ribs. It will also be reddish. You should use your electric knife to cut it away.
Repeat this process on the other side to get the other tail fillet.
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Step 4: Wash the Fillets
Now is a good time to pause and wash the fillets. Any remaining blood on the meat can change the flavor. Just give each fillet a quick rinse in cold water. Cleaning them now will keep the meat tasting sweeter and fresher.
Step 5: Remove the Skin and Trim Red Meat
The last step is to remove the skin and red meat from your washed fillets. You’ll use the electric knife, with your other hand flat on the fillet. You do want to cut a little more than just the skin off the fillet because there’s quite a bit of red meat right next to the skin. Cut about a centimetr deep in the fillet and slice cleanly from one end to the other.
Repeat on all remaining fillets.
There will still be some red meat in all the fillets, usually along the lateral line (a slight divot in the center of each fillet).
Use your electric knife to make a V-shaped cut-out of the fillet, just wide enough to remove all of the red meat. You’ll end up with two even fillets for each one you started with.
Here’s a highly detailed video showing how to break down a large catfish. They’re doing a lot more than just making a fillet, but their fishing and preparation experience can really help you identify the parts of a catfish you want to keep, and which parts to cut away.
They aren’t removing the head or fins first, since they aren’t looking for a large single fillet. Instead, they’re cutting each section of catfish into much smaller chunks.
The demonstrations are pretty fast, but they take a moment to explain each cut after it happens. You’ll also get to see almost every cut at least twice as they break down the catfish.
My Final Thoughts on Filleting a Catfish with an Electric Knife
While you can use an ordinary fillet knife and the same process I’ve outlined to fillet catfish, electric knives make the whole process a lot easier. They also handle cutting through rib bones much more easily than a traditional fillet knife.
Plus, since you don’t need as much pressure to create each fillet, this process is a bit easier, and safer for beginners.
Feel free to experiment with slightly different methods as well. You may find that a slight variation is more effective for you.
No matter what method you choose, enjoy your fresh catfish fillet!