What to Do When the Fishmonger Won't Fillet Your Fish, and How to Prepare Fava beans

There is nothing better than fresh food, especially fresh fish. This weekend we took the drive down to the HMart in Ellicott City with a good friend to visit their seafood counter for some fresh tilapia. The fish was beautiful, as usual - plump and clear-eyed and silver. And the really nice thing about the fish counter at the HMart is that they will clean it up for you and even offer several levels of cleaning. We usually go for gutted, scaled, and filleted and end up with pristine fish. At this week's visit, we were informed that the trained professionals do not fillet tilapia. They did do a fine job of the rest of the cleaning, though, and packed our fish in ice for us for the long drive back to Harford County.

Tilapia with fresh herbs

The object of filleting is to remove the fish from its skeleton in two unmarred steaks. Which is why we prefer to have professionals do it for us. But, you can do it at home. You will need:

  • A boning knife
  • Kitchen shears
  • Pliers

Scaled and gutted, but not filleted

Use your boning knife or your shears to remove the gills and fins from around the top of the spine. Then, use your boning knife to cut along the spine, tip to tail. Then take a second cut along the dorsal side of the fish. Using your boning knife, gently cut the fish off of the bone, starting at the spine. Use your kitchen shears to cut through the last if the flesh at the ends of the rib cage.

Remove the gills and fins

Cut tip to tail

Gently ease the fish from the bone

Use the kitchen shears for the final cut

Once you have your fillets cut, use the pliers to remove any stray bones from the fish. Also, if you wait until after they are cooked to skin your fish, most of the time it will peel right off.

Fish fillets, done at home

You can use the fins, gills, and bones for a very nice fish stock. Place them in a pot of water with some onion and leek, salt, pepper, and a moderate pour of white wine and Thai fish sauce. Let it simmer on the back burner to use for a sauce later.

Fish stock - future sauce

And we had plenty of time for our fish stock to simmer this evening as we decided to pair it with fresh fava beans. This large, tender legume has a bad reputation for being fussy to prep. This is because it's a two-step process - once you get the beans out of the pod, there is a membrane that also needs to be removed. This is not as much work as it sounds. The pods are thick and furry on the insides but they come apart fairly easily. Once all your beans have been removed from their pods, dealing with that extra membrane is pretty easy, too. Just steam the beans for about 30 seconds and that hull loosens up. Removing it is similar to removing the red skin from Spanish peanuts.

Fava beans

Removing the membrane

Prepped and ready to cook

Cooking favas is also easy. They cook through in about 15 minutes on the stovetop in a bit of olive oil. We mixed ours with some asparagus and a bit of cooked potato we had from Friday's dinner.

Favas and asparagus in olive oil

While the favas were cooking, we broiled the fish following the technique for

The Easiest Fish Ever

. We also got back to that fish stock.

We strained the stock and combined it with heavy cream and butter over low heat. We added fresh herbs to flavor it and a little potato starch to thicken it up. We got a rich, slightly creamy sauce with a strong umami element that didn't overpower the delicate tilapia.

A little jasmine rice rounded out our Sunday night dinner, making a pleasing end to a beautiful summer weekend.