How to Fillet A Large Grouper…


There was a vendor in the Bacolod market with large groupers for sale. Almost all the fish were of a uniform size, so I suspect these were caught in large nets and were part of a school of groupers, if they travel in schools… At PHP200 a kilo, these were a bargain compared to the PHP400+ a kilo they command in Manila. I watched with rapt attention as the vendor or his assistants, rapidly filleted the groupers, taking less than a minute to remove two large fillets from each fish. A very sharp knife, fantastic knife skills, and a wealth of experience is always a great thing to behold. I watched, then photographed as the vendor filleted fish after fish after fish…


First, place the fish on a nice big chopping board. Thank it for giving up its leisurely life on the reef(s) to feed several humans (and in turn tormenting lots of smaller edible creatures which it gladly swallowed up in search of protein), and take out a sharp knife. Remove the scales of the fish on both sides. Then make a clean cut behind the gills/head…


…and decapitate it. Save the head for a wonderful soup or fish curry.


Turn the fish around so that you can easily cut away the fillets starting at the top of the main bone behind the head of the fish.


Carefully cut out the flesh with a sharp knife, it will almost naturally peel away from the bones if done properly.


Cut away the whole side of the fish and you have a fillet! Trim this a bit more to make it less barbaric looking. Slice it into smaller pieces if you desire. Leaving the skin on makes it easier to cook and more fishlike in appearance, if you know what I mean. :)


All the trimmings, bones, heads, etc. can be used for soup. Filleted, the cost would be roughly PHP350 per kilo. What a pleasure to watch such a skilled fishmonger at work. :)

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18 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing these pictures! The photographer in me really loves these action shots! As for the filleting, well I love all my fingers so I’ll leave that to the experts!!!

  2. Wonderfully dexterous and skillful! I can imagine what awaits these fillets. (Wonder if it might involve the foie?)

  3. Foie and fish? Never heard of the combination but that would be a guilt-neutral dish, wouldn’t it? I wonder.

  4. This reminds me of the time I watched a Sushi chef (Filipino but Japanese trained) cut up a fresh tuna. I sat there fascinated and could not take my eyes off him. He cut up a 17-18 inch tuna with a knife that seemed to be only 6-7 inches long.

    The most impressive part was how we cut off the head. Unlike the fishmonger above, he did not cut the head of all the way. Instead he cut it up to about halfway then inserted the knife into the stomach cavity and continued cutting but only through the skin. He did not touch the entrail. When he finished, as he pulled the head off, the intact entrail came with it. Voila! Nice and clean.

    Such skill and dexterity. That was one day I regretted not having my camera with me!

  5. I went to the market the other day, I noticed a crowd gathering so something must be up.. the fishmonger was filleting a huge St Pierre (John Dory) I managed to snap from photos.

  6. wow! i just love rock cod aka grouper.. it is so good for a sweet and sour dish.. what are going to do with that MM?? looking forward to your post..

  7. like everybody else im also wondering what are you going to do with those fillet until…nice mm :)

  8. learn this fr my brother who spend 10yrs in Japan. Do not remove scale of the fish and slit the belly. the fish fat which makes the fish taste heavenly are under those scales and belly. This is why the grill fish in Japan are butterfly (tinapa style).

  9. I was going to ask what a grouper’s other name but sanojmd answered my question. Isn’t rock cod good grilled? I remember my father used to buy rock cod, isn’t that with the beautiful bluish reddish colors and he just “sugba” it and the flesh is so delish.

    Out of topic, MM, will be leaving for Madrid and other cities on Monday. Any thoughts as to where to eat or what to see aside from the touristy spots. Have read Rick Steves book. Thank you.

  10. I thought what we called “lapu lapu” in Tagalog is ‘grouper’?
    Anyway, I was just watching Ang Lee’s “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman” & retired Chef Chu was preparing Sunday dinner for his family – 3 daughters & himself. So many dishes – twice cooked pork, Peking duck, braised whole chicken, etc. He caught a live fish from a pail, stuck what looked like two chopsticks in its mouth to hold it still – it was still alive – & he proceeded to scale & fillet it & then floured the fillet & deep fried it in a wok!!!! He worked so fast (I read that 3 famous Taiwanese chefs did the cooking sequences). He used a wok and a steamer & a makeshift oven made from a huge oil can to cook his Peking duck. And he made sio mai, chopping his pork w two cleavers instead of grinding. The technique they showed for filling & then closing the sio mai looked so simple – yet I imagine would require lots & lots of practice. Oh, and they showed how they made the paper thin rice pancakes/wrapper on a heavy, flat cooking surface! Beautiful movie!

  11. Such skill and dexterity. the freshness of the fish. the photos – all contribute to such a fine photo essay. Vicky Go – I have watched that movie eat drink man woman a couple of times, just loving the food sequences!

  12. Thanks for the great post, MM. This is the reason why your blog is so addicting, you celebrate both the high end, e.g., foie gras and the amazing but often overlooked skills of working class people, sometimes on the same day.

    Several years ago in Davao, I used to be transfixed at the sight of vendors peeling, slicing, and wrapping a pineapple within a minute. Galing!

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