By Lauren Rauh
After nearly two decades of vegetarianism I have recently decided to start eating [sustainably caught] fish again. However, my adult life thus far, or in other words the part of my life in which I have been cooking for myself (adulthood in a nutshell, right?) has not yet included the preparation of fish. As a result, I decided to put myself up to the challenge of cleaning and roasting a whole fish. At the fish market I was faced with well, a lot of glazed eyed fishy faces, but the pickings were slim for sustainably caught fish. I left, therefore, with three sardines.
I am aware that cleaning and gutting sardines is not on the same level as filleting a mackerel for example, but try to be supportive here, I'm making baby steps. To learn this, not so necessary but seriously bad ass skill, I talked briefly to the counter people at the fish market, got the details from my fish-gutting fanatic friend, and then filled in the gaps with a little internet search. So, what follows is my thrilling account of how to clean a small fish, by a recently lapsed vegetarian...
How to Clean a [small] Fish:
First, wash the fish under cold water. Place the fish on a cutting board or butcher paper (something that can be thrown out or cleaned well). With the dull side of a knife, descale the fish by briskly dragging the knife from the tail to the gills along the body. You will see the clear mica-esque scales brush off. Repeat until you've cleaned the whole fish body and rinse the fish under cold water, again.
With a sharp knife, cut a slit along the belly of the fish from the gills to the tail. Try to cut only the skin and avoid puncturing any innards. Pull out all the guts and goop from the fish belly and rinse the fish inside and out again. Step back and admire your work.
Suggested Preparation: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat the whole fish with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast on a baking sheet until the skin is slightly crisp and there is no dark pink visible in the fish belly.
Epilogue: To fillet a fish after cleaning, you slice it down the middle and carefully take out all the bones. But that's a little beyond me at the moment and I think my first attempt a cleaning a [small] fish was a very successful breach of my comfort zone. So successful in fact, that I may never do it again. Or maybe, I will take the time to learn the filleting process from the amazing prep cooks at work. One member of the kitchen team used to be a restaurant owner and chef in Mexico and he has jaw-dropping skill and knowledge of anything and everything culinary. He can fillet a three foot fish in ten minutes, where as I can clean and roast four sardines in an hour. Nothing like a month in a professional kitchen to realized I've got a lot to learn...