How to Clean Salmon: Tips and Techniques

How to Clean Salmon

Salmon is a popular fish that’s enjoyed by many people around the world. It’s not only delicious, but it’s also packed with important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. However, before you can cook and eat salmon, you’ll need to clean it properly to ensure that it’s safe to consume. In this post, we’ll show you how to clean salmon step-by-step.

Gather Your Materials

Before you start cleaning salmon, it’s important to have the right tools and materials on hand. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A cutting board
  • A sharp knife
  • Tweezers or pliers
  • Paper towels

Make sure that your cutting board and knife are clean and sanitized before you begin.

Remove the Scales

The first step in cleaning salmon is to remove the scales. The scales are the small, silvery pieces that cover the skin of the fish. To remove the scales, follow these steps:

  1. Place the salmon on the cutting board, skin-side down.
  2. Hold the tail firmly with one hand and use a scaler or the back of a knife to scrape the scales off the skin. Start at the tail and work your way towards the head.
  3. Rinse the salmon under cold running water to remove any loose scales.

Important: Removing the scales can be a messy process, so be sure to do it over a sink or a large bowl to catch any flying scales.

Gut the Fish

The next step in cleaning salmon is to gut the fish. This involves removing the entrails and cleaning out the bloodline. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Make a cut behind the gills, along the length of the fish, down to the backbone.
  2. Use your fingers or a spoon to pull out the entrails, being careful not to break the gall bladder (a small, green sac near the liver) which can make the fish taste bitter.
  3. Remove the bloodline by using the tip of your knife to scrape it away. The bloodline is the dark, reddish strip of flesh along the spine that can have a strong, fishy taste.
  4. Rinse the cavity of the fish under cold running water to remove any remaining blood or debris.

Important: Be sure to work carefully and methodically when gutting the fish to avoid puncturing any internal organs, which can release bacteria and spoil the meat.

Remove the Head and Tail

After gutting the fish, the next step is to remove the head and tail. This makes it easier to fillet the fish and removes any parts that you might not want to eat. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Make a cut behind the gills to separate the head from the body.
  2. Make another cut just in front of the tail to remove the tail.

Important: Be sure to cut through the bones and not just the flesh to ensure a clean cut. Also, keep in mind that the head and tail can be used to make fish stock or soup, so don’t throw them away if you plan to use them in a recipe.

Fillet the Salmon

Now that the salmon is gutted and the head and tail have been removed, it’s time to fillet the fish. Filleting involves removing the bones from the fish and separating the flesh into two fillets. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Place the salmon on the cutting board, skin-side down.
  2. Insert the tip of your knife behind the head and backbone, making a cut along the length of the fish.
  3. Continue cutting along the backbone, using the blade to separate the fillet from the bones. Use long, smooth strokes and let the knife do the work.
  4. When you reach the rib bones, use the tip of your knife to cut through them and separate the fillet from the rib cage.
  5. Repeat the process on the other side of the fish to remove the second fillet.

Important: Use a sharp knife when filleting salmon to make clean, precise cuts. Dull knives can slip and cause injury. Also, be careful when handling the knife and make sure to keep your fingers away from the blade.

Rinse and Dry the Fillets

Once you’ve filleted the salmon, it’s important to rinse the fillets under cold running water to remove any stray bones, blood, or debris. Pat the fillets dry with paper towels before cooking or storing.

Important: Always handle fish with clean hands and clean equipment to prevent contamination. Wash your hands before and after handling fish and sanitize your cutting board and knife after use.

FAQs about Cleaning Salmon

1. Should I remove the skin from the salmon before cleaning it?

No, you should clean the salmon with the skin on, and then remove the skin after cleaning if desired. The skin helps protect the flesh during the cleaning process, and also makes it easier to handle the fish.

2. Do I need any special equipment to clean salmon?

Not necessarily, but having a sharp fillet knife and a good cutting board can make the process easier and safer. You may also want to have a pair of fish tweezers or pliers to help remove any stray bones from the fillets.

3. Can I clean salmon if it’s already been frozen?

Yes, you can clean salmon that has been previously frozen. Thaw the fish in the refrigerator before cleaning, and handle it carefully to prevent the flesh from falling apart.

4. Can I eat the salmon raw after cleaning?

It is possible to eat salmon raw after cleaning, but it is important to make sure that the fish has been properly handled and stored to prevent the risk of foodborne illness. If you plan to eat the salmon raw, make sure it is fresh and has been kept at a safe temperature.

5. Can I reuse the scales or other parts of the salmon?

While the scales are not typically consumed, they can be used for decorative or craft purposes. The head and tail can be used to make fish stock or soup, and the bones can be used to make a flavorful broth. Just be sure to clean and sanitize any parts of the fish that you plan to reuse.

6. Can I clean salmon with a spoon instead of a scaler?

While it is possible to clean salmon with a spoon, it can be more difficult and time-consuming than using a scaler. A scaler is designed to remove the scales quickly and efficiently, and can help prevent damage to the fish’s flesh. If you don’t have a scaler, you can use the back of a knife or the edge of a spoon to scrape the scales off.

Important: Always handle fish with care and follow proper food safety practices to prevent illness. If you have any concerns about cleaning or preparing fish, consult a professional or a trusted source for guidance.


Cleaning salmon can seem intimidating at first, but with a little practice, it’s a skill that anyone can master. By following these steps, you’ll be able to clean salmon like a pro, and enjoy fresh, healthy fish at home.

Remember to gather your materials, remove the scales, gut the fish, remove the head and tail, fillet the salmon, and rinse and dry the fillets before cooking or storing. And most importantly, handle the fish with care and respect to ensure that it’s safe to consume.

How to Clean Salmon: Tips and Techniques

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