The sides of the fish up to the gill area are fairly easy to scale but care should be taken to remove all the small fish scales from the underbelly, head area and close to the fins and gills.
Check for missed fish scales by running your fingers or fingernails
against the grain in tricky areas. This is the most important task as fish scales in the finished dish can detract from baked fish meals.
If you are not keeping the head and wings on the fish, (my advice is to leave them on for all Baked fish recipes as they contain the most succulent portions), they should be removed next by running a knife behind the gill plate, down to the backbone,
and completely across the fish on both sides.
Angle the blade forward to undercut the head as plenty of bone free flesh is in this area. The backbone can then be snapped or cut to remove the head without tearing the flesh.
Recipes for Fish Heads and Wings.
A surprising amount of meat can be recovered from fish heads. To avoid wasting perfectly good fish, if you have removed the fish heads and wings in one piece* remove the gills and wash the fish head before standing it upright in a saucepan. Add a
little water (about half and inch at most) sprinkle with salt and pepper, and steam the head for about 10 to 15 minutes over a hot stove.
When just cooked carefully remove the fish head from the saucepan and stand upright on a plate. Spread a little butter on the hot fish head and let it melt a little before eating with a small fork.
The cheek and fin muscles are particulrly delightful eaten hot with fresh bread. I normally sprinkle a little vinegar or lemon juice over the fish at the table.
Fish heads are also the perfect base from which to make fish stock for fish pies and chowders or the flesh can be carefully removed and used to make normal or Thai fish cakes.
*(Fish head with wings is the area from the gills back to just behind and including the pectoral fins)
Cleaning Fish - How to gut a fish
Gutting and cleaning fish is a simple task. Take the scaled whole fish and insert a sharp knife into the vent in the underbelly of the fish just in front of the anal fin and run it under the belly flap to the gill area, some force is required to split
the gills. If the fish roes are to be used keep the knife at a flat angle to prevent rupturing the roes.
Remove everything from the gut cavity and remove the gills if you have left the head and wings on. On some fish species the gills can be pulled out while other are best cut out or snipped out with kitchen shears.
Once the majority of the gut and gills are removed the fish should be thoroughly washed clean inside and out and any remaining gut or gill material should be removed. Pay particular attention to the area near the backbone and remove any blood with a
clean brush if necessary.
Once clean score the sides of the fish deeply with a sharp knife. Then rub a marinade into the skin and scores. Any fish compatable herbs and spices mixed with melted butter or vegetable oil can be used. Parsley, pepper and lemon juice mixed with butter
is very good. Sweet chilly sauce, thai spice and coriander with sesame oil is great for those who like and asian taste. Tomato paste, basalmic vinegar or white wine and basil give a great italian flavour and a little cheese sprinkled on top is also interesting.
The gut cavity can also be stuffed with tomato, onion, peppers or spices to taste if required.
Get a baking pan of sufficient size to hold the fish and place a rack under the fish to keep it off the bottom of the pan.
Cook in a pre heated oven at 180 degrees centigrade for 10 minutes (small fish) to 30 minutes (large fish) depending on the size
of the fish. To check if it is done insert a fork at the thickest part of the fish and pull the flesh apart down to the backbone. It needs to be just far enough apart to see if the flesh is white (cooked) or translucent (uncooked). The fish can be basted
in the oven while cooking if you have kept a little of the sauce ingredients. As soon as the fish is almost done (just white to, or almost right to the backbone) remove from the oven as the last bit will cook by the time it is served.
When proficient at this fish recipie turn on the grill for the last few minutes for a beautiful crispy skin.
Serving Baked Fish
To serve bone free servings for kids use a spatula to remove portions of the upper side of the top of the fish across to just before the backbone and the area behind the anal fin before the backbone, when the fillet on the first side has been removed
the fish can either be turned over or the backbone lifted away from the remaining fillet to access the other side.