Catfish have tough, leathery skin that’s difficult to eat if it’s left on the meat. Whether you’re preparing fish you caught or bought from the store, you can skin and clean it at home with a few common household tools. After you clean your catfish, you can cut it into filets so they’re ready to eat!
Make shallow slanted cuts behind the gills on each side that meet in the stomach.
Use your filet knife to cut just behind the gills at a 45-degree angle towards the head. Only cut between 1⁄8–1⁄4 inch (3.2–6.4 mm) deep or else it will be more difficult to remove the skin. Cut around the bottom of the head to connect the two cuts.
Make sure the filet knife you’re using is sharp. A dull knife won’t cut as easily and is more dangerous than a sharp knife.
Cut along the fish’s spine from its head to its tail.
Start your cut at the base of the head, and pull your knife down the fish’s body. Use a shallow cut just to break through the skin, or about 1⁄8–1⁄4 inch (3.2–6.4 mm) deep. When you reach the top fin, or dorsal fin, work your knife around it rather than straight through it. End your cut right at the tail.
Be careful of the sharp barb on the end of the dorsal fin. It could puncture your skin and depending on the species of catfish, it may contain a poison or toxin.
Slice open the skin down the center of the fish’s belly.
Make another 1⁄8–1⁄4 inch (3.2–6.4 mm) deep cut along the stomach, starting at the incision you made around the head. Work the knife towards the tail, ending your cut right when the fin starts.
Don’t cut too deep or else you’ll puncture the fish’s internal organs.
Make vertical slits on each side of the tail.
Look for the area on the fish’s tail where the scales stop and the fin begins. Use your filet knife to make a 1⁄8–1⁄4 inch (3.2–6.4 mm) deep cut from the spine to the belly. These cuts should intersect with the other 2 cuts you’ve made.
Clamp the pliers on the skin below the fish’s gills.
Peel a small part of the skin back with your finger before gripping it with a pair of pliers. Grab a large enough piece of skin so that you’re using the entire surface area of your pliers.
To get a better grip or loosen more of the skin, twist the pliers.
Peel the skin back towards the tail in one fluid motion.
Hold the catfish’s head down with your hand to keep it pressed against the cutting board. Pull the skin away from the head slowly so it doesn’t rip or break. When you reach the tail, the skin should easily pull off of the fish. Repeat the process on the other side.
Wear gloves when you hold down the catfish’s head since their whiskers could hurt your hand.
Twist the head off just below the gills.
First, bend the head back towards the spine to snap the fish’s neck. Put the fish’s head back in place and twist it. As you twist the head, pull it away from the body to completely remove it.
If you don’t feel comfortable twisting the head off the body, use a butcher’s knife to chop the head off behind the gills.
Remove the tail and all the fins.
Use a pair of kitchen scissors or a filet knife to cut off all the fins, including the tail. Cut as close to the base of the fin as you can to remove it entirely.
To remove the dorsal fin completely, cut around it with your filet knife about
Make a slit through the fish’s stomach and pull out the entrails with your finger.
Use your filet knife to completely cut through the fish’s stomach. Run your finger through the inside of the fish starting on the side closest to the tail. Scoop out all of the internal organs and throw them away.
Wear nitrile gloves if you don’t want to touch the fish.
Put the fish organs in a separate garbage bag and throw it outside so your kitchen garbage doesn’t stink.
Wash the body out with cold water.
Run the meat of the fish under your faucet to clean out any blood or residue from inside the body. When you’re finished, pat the fish dry with a paper towel and put it back on your cutting board.
Only use cold water since hot water could start cooking the fish.
Cut down along the spine towards the ribs.
Slowly work the tip of your filet knife down the spine to separate the meat from the bones. Use short strokes to cut around the rib cage to keep bones out of your filet. Work down the entire length of the rib cage from the head towards the tail.
If you have smaller catfish around 14–16 inches (36–41 cm), consider cooking your catfish whole.
Poke the knife through the belly of the fish and cut towards the tail.
Hold the fish still with your non-dominant hand. Put your knife in between the spine and filet and push it through the fish until it the blade comes out of the belly. Once you see the tip of the knife through the belly, slowly cut the filet towards the tail.
Don’t put your fingers where you plan to poke through the fish or else you will cut yourself.
Cut back towards the front of the fish to remove the filet.
Lift the tail portion of the filet away from the rib cage with your non-dominant hand. Cut through the bottom of the fish still connected to the filet. Once you remove the first filet, set it aside.
Remove the filet from the other side.
Flip the fish over and repeat the process on the other side. Work slowly to ensure you get all of the meat off the bones. Set the second filet aside once it’s removed. After the fish has been completely cleaned, either throw away the bones or make a stock from them.
Catfish filets can be fried, grilled, or baked.