The Art and Science of Fish Fabrication

The Art and Science of Fish Fabrication

The Art and Science of Fish Fabrication: From Basic Cuts to Goujonettes

Published on September 18, 2023 by

Fish fabrication is not just a set of culinary techniques but an art form that transforms a raw fish into multiple presentations, each suitable for various culinary applications. Whether it’s a home cook looking to elevate a weekend meal or a professional chef preparing for fine dining, knowing how to properly fabricate fish is essential. In this publication, we'll delve into the comprehensive art of fish fabrication, expanding our discussion to include not only basic techniques like scaling, trimming, and gutting but also specialized cuts such as tranche, paupiette, and goujonette.

Scaling and Trimming


Scaling a fish is usually the first step in fish fabrication. Scales protect fish in their natural environment, but they are not suitable for consumption. Fish scales are generally removed using a specialized fish scaler or the back of a knife. To scale a fish:

  1. Place the fish on a stable surface, belly side away from you.
  2. Holding the fish by the tail, use the scaler or knife to gently scrape against the grain of the scales, moving from the tail to the head.
  3. Rinse the fish under cold running water to remove any remaining scales and debris.

After scaling, you may need to trim fins and any other protrusions that could interfere with the fabrication process. A pair of kitchen shears or a sharp knife will usually suffice for this purpose.

  1. Cut off the dorsal and anal fins by inserting the knife at the base and sliding it along the body.
  2. Trim away the pelvic and pectoral fins.
  3. Remove any remaining small fins or protrusions.


Gutting the fish involves removing its internal organs to make it suitable for cooking. This step is essential for both health reasons and improved flavor.

  1. Place the fish belly-up and make a shallow incision from the anus up to the bottom of the head.
  2. Use your fingers or a spoon to carefully remove the internal organs. Ensure you get rid of the gills, as they can impart a bitter taste.
  3. Rinse the cavity under cold running water to remove any residual organs or blood.

Basic Cuts

Once your fish is scaled, trimmed, and gutted, you can proceed to cut it according to your recipe requirements. Different dishes call for different cuts. Here are the most common basic types:


A fillet is a boneless piece of fish meat. To fillet a fish:

  1. Lay the fish on its side.
  2. Make a diagonal cut just behind the head down to the backbone.
  3. Turn your knife parallel to the backbone and slide it along the length of the fish, lifting the fillet as you go.
Steak Cut

Fish steaks are cross-sectional cuts that include a portion of the backbone. This cut is suitable for large, round fish like tuna and salmon.

  1. Position the fish upright.
  2. Use a heavy, sharp knife to make perpendicular cuts at intervals along the length of the fish.
Butterfly Cut

A butterfly cut is essentially two fillets that are still connected by a small piece of skin. It's often used for stuffing.

  1. Follow the steps for filleting until you have one fillet removed.
  2. Flip the fish and perform the same operation, but leave the two fillets connected at the belly skin.
Supreme Cut

Supremes are small, boneless pieces usually cut from a larger fillet. They are great for elegant plating.

  1. Take a fillet and remove the skin.
  2. Cut the fillet into smaller, angled pieces, typically 2-3 inches long.

Specialized Cuts


The tranche cut is a cross-sectional cut of a flatfish, like flounder or halibut, typically about an inch thick. This cut is similar to the steak cut but is specifically designed for flatfish, which have a different bone structure than round fish.

How to Cut a Tranche
  1. Place the flatfish on the cutting board with its darker side facing up.
  2. Make perpendicular cuts at intervals, usually 1-1.5 inches apart, through the fish, keeping the knife straight to maintain the thickness of each tranche.
  3. Carefully separate the tranche, making sure to keep it intact for cooking.

A paupiette is a fillet that has been thinly sliced, filled with stuffing, and then rolled up. This cut is often used for elegant dishes and can be poached or cooked in sauce.

How to Make a Paupiette
  1. Start with a boneless, skinless fillet.
  2. Pound the fillet gently between two pieces of plastic wrap to make it uniformly thin.
  3. Place your choice of stuffing (herbs, vegetables, or seafood mix) on one end of the fillet.
  4. Roll the fillet tightly around the stuffing.
  5. Secure the roll with twine or toothpicks to hold its shape during cooking.

Goujonettes are thin strips of fish fillet that are often breaded and fried. They are essentially the fish version of chicken tenders and are commonly served as appetizers or in salads.

How to Cut Goujonettes
  1. Take a skinned fillet and place it flat on the cutting board.
  2. Cut the fillet lengthwise into thin, even strips, usually about 1/2 inch wide.
  3. Optionally, these strips can be breaded or battered before frying.


Having the right tools is crucial for effective fish fabrication. At the bare minimum, you'll need:

Additional Tools for Specialized Cuts

Specialized cuts often require specific tools for precision and quality:

Combining Techniques

The beauty of learning these specialized cuts is that you can combine them with the foundational techniques of scaling, trimming, and gutting. This mastery enables you to be versatile in the kitchen, capable of handling various recipes and culinary styles.

In Conclusion

Understanding the nuances of fish fabrication can significantly elevate your culinary skills. Whether you're a seasoned chef or a home cook, knowing how to scale, trim, gut, and cut fish, including specialized cuts like tranche, paupiette, and goujonette, will allow you to prepare dishes that are both delicious and visually appealing. Familiarity with different cuts also broadens your cooking repertoire, enabling you to tackle a variety of recipes with ease.

End of Information

The information presented in this publication may be updated periodically.

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