Whole Fish or Filleted?


Fish is one of the healthiest foods there is, containing high amounts of protein and omega-3s. These are important for brain and heart function, and can even help to lower your blood pressure. Not only is it good for you physically, but eating fish high in omega-3 has been linked to alleviating the symptoms of SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder.

You can buy fresh fish either whole or filleted; both options have positives and negatives. Which one you should get depends on what you’re looking for in terms of cost, flavour and effort.

Whole fish are often fresher than a pre-prepared fillet, as they tend to go straight from boat to market, with very few middle steps. Unlike a whole fish, a fillet has come into contact with both air and bacteria which can dry out the meat.

Compared to a fillet, it is also easier to spot when a whole fish is fresh, simply by looking. Important characteristics of a fresh fish include the eyes - should be bright and not clouded over - and the gills - should be pink, clear and not slimy at all.  Fresh fillets should be firm, with no strong odours and no weeping fluids.

Check out our page for tips on buying the freshest fish.

Our friendly local fish merchants based here at Plymouth Fisheries, just like any good fish mongers, will be able to fillet a whole fish for you, right then and there when you visit to make a purchase. This will certainly be fresher than pre-filleted ones. At Plymouth Fisheries, our merchants can also explain the best methods of cooking the fish, as well as how and where the fish was caught.

They can also gut and descale the fish for you, should you want a whole fish rather than a fillet. Whole fish can be messy and a bit difficult to handle at home; they need descaling and gutting and a lot of rinsing to ensure they are properly cleaned.

Buying a filleted fish will be easier to store and freeze, if you do not plan to eat on the day of purchase. It will be easier and faster to prepare, as well as being easier and faster to eat, since there is no need to worry about bones.

However, should you want to give filleting a go, there are numerous video and guides online on how to fillet any kind of fish, just like this one from BBC’s Good Food.

Buying a whole fish and having the fishmonger fillet it for you is the cheaper way of buying a filleted fish. Pre-filleted fish are often more expensive due to the added step between boat and table, and you only get the fillet. You can make a fantastic stock from the bones and head of most fish which can be used in soups, stews and whole range of fish dishes. The taste of a homemade fish stock will easily beat anything bought.

Here is a simple Epicurious recipe to get you started.

Taste is a huge reason to buy whole fish rather than a fillet. It simply tastes better - all of the added flavour of cooking on the bone, which will help keep the meat moist. Cooking with the skin on will also give the fish a little bit of fat, and fat = flavour. The skin can also protect the flesh from drying out during cooking.

If you don’t want to deal with the bones before eating, it is entirely possible to fillet after the meat has been cooked. Here’s a guide from Eataly.