An acquaintance called recently, and when he said he had a fish question I thought it would be how to fish for something-or-other or where to get a fishing license. Nope.
My daughter caught a catfish today,” he said, “and she wanted to keep it. I’ve never cleaned one of these, so I’m wondering how to gut a catfish.
It turned out that his daughter had actually caught a bullhead, one of the smaller species in the catfish family, and a fine-tasting one, especially when taken from cool water in spring.
I told him that you don’t exactly gut a catfish as you might a perch, bluegill, or small trout that will be pan-fried. That is, you don’t just take a knife to a catfish’s belly and remove the entrails (that would be catfish gutting) because doing so makes it much harder (almost impossible) to effectively remove the thin and slippery skin of the catfish. You have to remove that skin, as well as the head, in the initial cleaning process, and you can’t just later slice a catfish’s skin away from a fillet. If you ever try this once, you’ll never do it again. Or, you’ll never keep a catfish again and that would be a shame, since they’re delicious.
Therefore, the question of how to gut a catfish becomes one of how to properly clean a catfish. The solution is pretty simple and begins with a whole fish that has not been cut in any way. Before you start, remember that a catfish has sharp pectoral fins that you don’t want puncturing your skin, so it’s a good idea to wear a glove on the hand that will be holding your catfish.
Here’s the process for neatly skinning and eviscerating bullheads and small catfish (assuming that you’re right-handed):
- Hold the fish back up and belly down with the thumb, index, and middle fingers of your left hand pinning the pectoral fins.
- With a sharp knife, make a shallow cut of the skin around the entire head of the fish, as well as along the backbone from the dorsal fin to the adipose fin.
- Using a pair of pliers (or catfish skin grippers), grab the skin at the back behind the head and pull it to the tail. Do this on both sides.
- Still holding the head in your left hand, grab the body just behind the head with your right hand; bend the head down to break the backbone.
- Pull the head away from the fish, pulling down and back toward the tail. This will remove the skin and the entrails in one process.
- Cut the tail off if desired and rinse the fish in clean water.
That’s how to gut a catfish and remove the skin in one process. Once you’ve done a few it becomes quick and easy. And after eating them, you’ll want to catch and keep more. Don’t forget to get a fishing license before you go!