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How to cook any bony fish

Except for a few species, like trout, perch and zander or walleye, most anglers don’t keep freshwater fish for eating. If you ask them why, the most common reason you’ll get will be that it has a lot of bones. Many have never even tried species like crucian carp, northern pike, bream, carp or roach. They’re missing out if you ask me, because they are some of the most flavourful fish, when cooked the right way. Keep reading if you want to discover the best method for dealing with bony fish.

Crucian Carp Prepared For Frying

General information on bony fish

Freshwater fish have a lot of bones – no doubt about that. Most species have “floating” bones intertwined with the muscles on their backs and tails. This is the main reason why most people (especially from Western Europe and North America) have never even considered trying a recipe that calls for such fish.

However, people in Central and Eastern Europe and most parts of Asia do consume it. Some even prefer it to saltwater species. The top 3 most farmed species in the world are all carp species.

Methods for cooking bony fish

If you’re wondering how to cook carp, crucians, pike, bream, barbel, or any other freshwater fish, keep reading through our methods and enjoy dishes other people have been savouring for centuries.

Score and fry

This method is widely popular in Central and Eastern Europe, and it’s also my personal favorite. It works best for smaller sized fish, like crucian carp, small pike (less than 1kg) small barbel, bream, roach, etc.

After descaling, gutting and cleaning the fish, use a sharp knife to score its flesh and small bones, making shallow cuts across the back. These cuts need to be less than 4mm apart and only go as deep as the spine bone, without cutting through it. By doing this, all the floating, small bones in the flesh will be cut into small pieces and the heat and oil will cook them through and make them “disappear”. You’ll only have the spine and the ribs of the fish to deal with, similar to any other, more “valuable” species.

This scoring technique also works for cooking small bony fish on the grill or griddle.

Crucian Carp In The Pan

Fillet and mince

This one’s another popular and ingenious method for dealing with bony fish. Works best with larger fish like northern pike, muskie, carp, barbel, etc.

This method asks for filleting the fish in order to remove the spine and ribs. While it’s not always necessary, you may find it helpful to pull out some of the floating bones with tweezers, depending on the species. You will then proceed to mince the flesh as you would mince beef or any other meat. If the fish is very large and the bones are thicker, it’s a good idea to mince it twice or run it through a food processor.

The fish mince can now be used in so many ways, like fish meatballs, nuggets, patties, or burgers. Use it to make a pasta sauce! Or mix it with onions, garlic and spices and bake (or smoke) a stuffed northern pike!

Fillet and poach

Another good method for dealing with bones is poaching. This works especially well for larger bony fish, like northern pike, barbels, muskies or carps.

Descale, gut and clean the fish, then proceed to remove the fillets from each side. Your goal at this point is to get rid of the spine and ribs. Then bring a pot of fish broth to a gentle simmer (use chicken or vegetable broth if you want) and put the fillets in. Make sure the broth is not boiling too hard, we only want a light simmer. The fish should be cooked through in 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. Remove them from the pot and set them aside to cool.

Once cooled down, proceed to picking the meat from the bones. As the bones usually face towards the tail of the fish, you should pick the meat “with the grain” and take bigger pieces of boneless flesh at a time.

Use this cooked flesh in salads, soups or fish cakes.

No matter how careful you are, you may miss a bone or two. Be cautious, especially when feeding it to kids!

Cook as it is

You may have already figured this out, but you can also cook any bony fish species whole as you would any other fish. Especially if the fish is on the larger side, the extra bones will be pretty easy to pick, as they are large and you can’t really miss them. Pull the flesh apart from the bones using a fork if you’d like – or simply use your hands!

Use these methods for cooking bony fish to prepare your next meal!

With these simple methods of dealing with bones in freshwater bony fish, you can unlock so many new dishes to try out. Enjoy delicious, healthy fish using one of our recipes.

Frequently Asked Questions

If I score the fish, won’t I cut the bones into hundreds of small pieces?

Yes you will, but that is exactly how this method works. By frying or grilling the fish over high temperature, those small bone pieces will simply “dissolve” into the flesh and you won’t be able to find any of them in the end product.

That is why this method is only suitable for smaller, younger fish, as the bigger ones have thicker bones and they will not cook through easily.

Is it necessary to remove all the bones when filleting and mincing larger fish?

While removing as many bones as possible is ideal, it’s not always necessary, especially if the bones are thin and soft. However, for a smoother texture and ease of consumption, you may prefer to remove larger bones before mincing.

Are there any special considerations when cooking bony fish for children?

Yes, when preparing bony fish for children, it’s essential to be extra cautious and ensure that all bones are removed.

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