How to Clean and Fillet a Halibut

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The California Halibut is a prized fish to catch here in Southern California, as you’ve likely seen in fishing videos. Although they are smaller compared to the barndoor Pacific Halibuts up in the northern United States and into Alaska, they still make delicious table fare.

If you’re lucky to pull a keep halibut while spearfishing or surf fishing, then you’re going to need to clean it. Below are the steps and tips on how to clean halibut and prepare it for your favorite recipe or dish.

Recommended Filleting Gear:

How to Clean Halibut – Step by Step Guide

When it comes to cleaning a halibut, it’s nice to do it in a way that you can use as much of the fish as possible. For example, instead of throwing away the carcass, think about adding it to water and vegetables to make a good fish stock that can be frozen and used in future dishes.

Let’s start our halibut butchery process! 

1. Remove the Guts

We’re going to assume that you’ve already removed the guts and are working from a cleaned halibut. You can also leave the guts in and cut around the stomach as long as you’re careful not to puncture the cavity.

2. Remove the Two Cheeks

Halibut cheeks are two delicious little morsels that shouldn’t be wasted. Take your fillet knife and cut the cheek flesh out by first feeling where the halibut skull surrounds the soft area. The cheek is in a cavity, so push down until the blade stops by the head bones, then cut in a circle to pop out the meat.

3. Remove the Fins

Take a reliable pair of kitchen shears and start removing the dorsal fin and all other fins. Place them in a bowl to save for your fish stock; otherwise, bury them in your garden to add nutrients to your plants. 

How to Fillet Halibut – Step by Step Guide

halibut fillets on a cutting board
Halibut fillets from an OC Spearo Halibut Catch & Cook class

1. Cut Down the Middle

With the halibut on the cutting board, grab one of your sharpest fillet knives and cut down the center following the lateral line. Thankfully, this is a flat fish, so it’ll stay in one place while you cut down toward the tail. Follow the spine, and make sure you don’t push too hard to cut through the whole fish.

2. Follow the Bones

Using your hand, pull the flesh towards you as you start to run the fillet knife along the rib bones to begin removing the tissue from the skeleton.

3. Remove the Second Fillet

Rotate the fish 180 degrees and do the same to the second fillet. Don’t worry if you’re not cutting all of the meat since we can scrape it later with a spoon and use it for fish cakes or leave it for your stock.

4. Flip and Do the Other Side

Repeat the same process for the underside of the halibut.

5. Remove the Skin

If you’d like to cook your meat without the skin, then you’ll need to remove it from the fillets. There are multiple ways to do it, but a secure method is to cut a little slit in the tail as a holding point for you to then run your knife at an angle and push away from you. Refer to the video above if this isn’t clear how to do it.

6. Trim and Clean

Finish up your fillet by removing any bones or parts that look unappetizing. Throw any scraps in your stock, including the bones.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you dress a halibut?

Remove the guts and skull. Save the cheek meat from the head. Then using a fillet knife, remove the four fillets and use them in your recipe.

How do you break down halibut?

Remove the skull, fins, and guts. Then remove the cheeks and fillets.

What is the fastest way to clean a flounder?

The fastest way to clean a flounder is by using a sharp knife and following the how-to-clean halibut instructions above.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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