When it comes to survival in the wild, learning to catch and gut a fish is one of the many secrets to ensuring that you have a supply of fresh, nutritious food. In this article, we will look at the basics of preparing a fish for eating when in the great outdoors.
1. Keep it Fresh
As with any food and especially fish and meats, keeping it fresh is very important. Once you have caught your fish (we’ll cover how to do that in another post), you should keep it in a container of water until you are ready to prepare and cook it. If you have access to ice or a cool box, then the fish can be kept for longer. Without this, it is recommended that you clean and cook it right away.
2. Wash it
Whether you’ve caught your fish in the wilds or picked it up from your local supermarket (don’t worry, we won’t tell), making sure that it is properly washed will help to make sure that you stay healthy. In order to wash your fish, you’ll need some kind of work surface and a knife. If you happen to have scaling tool then this will help, but a sharp blade will suffice in its absence. If you are in the wild, then you’ll be able to dispose of any remains without worry, however campsites are likely to be less keen on fish remnants accumulating so a bag or bucket is also recommended. So what steps are required to clean the fish ready for prep? Here’s what to do:
Scale the fish – Holding the fish by the head with one hand and, using a scaling tool or a dull knife, apply short, raking motions, moving from the tail toward the head. Depending on the type of fish, use caution around the sharp edges of the fins. Repeat this action on both sides of the fish, around the fins and up to the gills. Rinse the fish in water when you’ve finished.
Skin the Fish – whilst many freshwater fish will be scaled, certain types known as bottom-feeders are instead protected by a thick skin, which most people prefer to remove before cooking. Before skinning such fish, it is recommended to remove any sharp fins.
Once these sharp spines have been removed, make a cut behind the head and along the pectoral or belly fins. Hold the fish by the head with one hand, grasp the skin with the other, and pull toward the tail. Rinse the fish when it’s completely skinned.
Note – if you are planning to cook the fish directly over a fire, you may find it preferable to avoid skinning as it may cause it to fall apart too easily.
Gut the fish – Insert the sharpest blade of your knife into rear of the stomach, near the tail. Slowly slide the knife toward the head of the fish and stop at the base of the gills. This is easiest and safest to do with the fish on its side and your supporting hand flat against if, keeping fingers up above the blade. Then, open the abdominal cavity and slowly pull, and remove the entrails. You may find it helpful to use a spoon to assist with some types of fish.
Always remove the darkened inner membrane (only some fish have this) with a scraping motion as it can cause bitterness when cooking if not fully removed. Remove the head, if desired, by cutting behind the gills. Rinse the fish and the internal cavity.
3. Get cooking!
Once you’ve prepared you fish to your satisfaction, it’s time to get cooking. One of the best ways to cook a fish over a fire is to skewer it lengthwise, then hang it over warm coals or glowing embers and rotate it from time to time until it is evenly cooked. Bigger flames are best avoided as they may cause the outside to burn too quickly. If you want to be a bit classier, you may wish to wrap the fish in aluminium foil, and even add some herbs, spices etc for some extra flavour.
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