How To Skin Perch Like A Pro

Yellow perch might just be one of the tastiest but underrated fish in the world. These tiny little guys hold some of the flakiest meat known in the culinary universe. That is of course, once you get past the skin. Perch skin is the odd one out. The skin is not fragile but it is not sturdy either. Therefore, removing it can be a little tricky and it becomes harder unless you know how. How to skin perch is definitely a skill you want to learn especially if you will be eating a limit now and then. There are quite a few ways to skin yellow perch and clean them.

There is no right or wrong way. It is just what works best for you. You just need a really nice fillet knife and a little patience. You see, like a walleye the scale pattern is similar on the skin. Unlike a walleye however, the skin is not thick enough to be the shield that it needs for protection. This is an in-depth route of that process and why. Under that assumption, let’s get into it.

But First, Understand The Yellow Perch Skin

Perch skin with a perch held by a person.

The skin on a perch or yellow perch is covered in small scales that run in a constant pattern. Yellow perch are related to walleye and sauger with both having a similar skin-to-scale makeup. The skin is kind of soft and the meat is very tender. For this reason, you can skin the fish and fillet at as normal or descale it and eat it with the skin on. Many of the locations that have yellow perch such as the Great Lakes also have an abundant supply.

Taking the scales off of a perch is a little difficult. While the scales are not overly tough, they are covered from head to tail in them. It may take you longer to take the scales off then it would for other fish. Since they have so many, they go everywhere. This is a great reason why taking the skin off of the fish is the better route. Also, it helps to know what the diet of the fish is as well as the location where you caught it.

If you want to eat perch from Lake Erie, know that they feed on a lot of round goby. For this reason, you certainly want to skin your perch as it can harbor contaminants. Perch meat is incredibly succulent, buttery, tender, flaky, and flavorful. The best places to catch perch is in ponds, rivers, and streams. If you are not a fan of fishing or just want a fish now, local butchers and fish markets around the country cell farm-raised perch that are incredibly clean and juicy. This is a great option for finding healthy and tasty fish for your family.

Tools Needed

  • Fillet Knife
  • Knife Sharpener
  • Skinning Pliers
  • Cutting Board
  • Cut Resistant Glove

Prepare The Fish

You certainly want to get the best meat from your perch. To do that, the right preparation is very crucial. The right thing to do would be to clean it once it comes out of the water. It tastes better in that manner, especially when it comes to more complicated dishes. This additionally, makes removing the skin much simpler. Taking the fish out and setting it on ice or a freezing pack will decrease the temperature to a point where freshness is best. Your first step is to get yourself some perch. I recommend catching perch on live minnows or other artificial fishing lures.

I also suggest getting a limit because the amount per fish is small. Once that is done, put the fish on ice in a cooler and shut the lid. The lice should stiffen up the body as well as keep it fresh for the ride home. Find perch in natural and man-made lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds. They are usually native to the northern hemisphere and only exist in sizable numbers where stocked down south.

Humanely Dispatch Your Catch

I think that ice may be the best option for killing your fish. Sometimes though, you don’t have the money for a cooler or you don’t want to carry it around. In that case, the next best bet is to keep them in a boat livewell or another aerated tank until you are ready to skin them. If that is not an option, use a fish basket or a stringer. In any case, the best way to kill the fish without ice is to pierce the brain.

Take a fillet knife or some other knife and push into the head of the fish until the blade slides into the fish head. The fish should die instantly. This is humane and a very safe way of dispatch. Otherwise, you can bleed the fish while its alive. All you have to do is rip or cut a gill on either side of the fish. The blood should run out through the opening and it will also make working with the fillets a lot cleaner.

How To Skin Perch Using A Fillet Knife

Outline of where to cut perch skin on a fish.

Taking the skin off a perch is fairly straightforward and easy with the right technique. Take a good sharp fillet knife and make a cut behind the gill plate in front of the fin. Don’t go behind the fin. These fish have a very tasty piece of meat right where the head meets the stomach. Make sure to get in there and save it for yourself. Trace the outside of the fish with your knife penetrating the skin only.

Repeat for both sides. Try to get your knife in between the skin and the meat. Once that is done, a decent pair of pliers can get the job done very easily. It’s like taking a sock off of a foot. The skin should not be too firmly attached. Once you have pulled the skin off successfully, this is a great time to care for your fillet knife blade. Although the skin is not too hard on the blade, make sure to put a straight edge back on the knife so that it stays sharp for the next step. This is especially true if you want to do a lot of fish at the same time.

Perch scales don’t do a whole lot of damage to a blade’s edge but just a little over time really does add up. Make a vertical cut near the tail so that your knife doesn’t slide out of the end. Alternatively, you can pull that skin off easier by using a device like the Skinzit Fish Skinner.

How To Gut Yellow Perch After Skinning

Next, you should proceed to gut the fish once you have removed the skin. Taking the guts out of the fish is not necessary but it makes the meat taste better and it makes it safer to eat. Perch can suffer from belly burst so it’s important that you remove the organs so they don’t contaminate your food.

Basically, a buildup of methane gases fill the inside of the fish until its stomach contents burst open. Disgusting and yuck. Open the belly cavity by gently pushing the tip of your knife through the fish. Start in the middle, work up to the head, and then work to the tail. Just deep enough to penetrate the meat. Your aim is to get the blade right through without slicing through to the other side.

Once you have butterflied your catch, put on a pair of gloves or go bare-handed. Grab all the guts and organs by running your fingers across the backbone. Grab the heart liver kidneys and everything else until it’s cleaned out. Next, use your knife and dispose of the fins after slicing them off.

Filleting The Fish After It Has Been Prepared

First, put on a cut resistant glove. Grab the head and try using the point of your knife and slicing along the spine of the perch. Make your cut on one side of the dorsal fin and start to feel for that backbone. Once you hit the backbone, run the blade of the knife across it starting at the head and working your way to the tail. If your knife is good and sharp as it should be, the knife should get all of the meat on the fish for you.

Once you are almost done with a filet, poke the knife through the end and slice it off. You should be left with a very clean fillet of perch. Turn the fish over and repeat again for the other side being a little more careful with the knife because there isn’t a whole lot to hold onto.

Clean Up With Clean Water

One of the best things about perch fish is how frankly sanitary they can be. They normally eat a diet of small fish and crustaceans. Because of this, the fillets are of high quality and a hefty price at the butcher shop or seafood market. It’s important to remember that you always keep your workstation as clean as possible when you’re handling fish and raw food. Perch is one of those clean fish that doesn’t bleed as much as you would think.

After you’re done cleaning the fish, also make sure to clean and sanitize your cutting boards, your fillet knives, your countertop, and everything else. This is to prevent cross-contamination. Use cold water to keep the meat firm and prevent it from drying out. Make sure to clean all of the blood. Make sure to get cold water running in between the cavity of the fish make sure you get every last bit of blood, organs, and fluid out. If possible, wash your hands with antibacterial soap and put your dishes that need washing in the dishwasher or wash them by hand.

Store The Perch in a Suitable Container

Because the meat on a yellow perch is so incredibly moist, you want to keep all the juices in. You can do this by storing it properly. I recommend covering a glass bowl with aluminum foil or plastic wrap for freshness. There should keep about three to four days in great condition. If you want to freeze them instead, it is best to use a FoodSaver bag or another similar vacuum seal.

Once you make a cook dish out of it, the fish will keep as long as the dish will. They make an incredible fish sandwich, gumbo, or an addition to fries and hush puppies. It has a very soft and tender quality for also being flaky too. Leave it in the refrigerator covered for the best flavor. One of my favorite ways to store it is in distilled water. I take a whole lot of fillets and store them in a plastic bag with distilled water and a rubber band to seal it.

Skinned perch fillet baked on a plate with potatoes and cherry tomatoes.

Cook And Enjoy Your Perch Fillets!

Now you can enjoy that deliver flaky white perch meat in every dish that you want to. The flesh is very flaky and tasty. It is ideal for deep frying, baking, broiling, and poaching. Now you can put that perch in a frying pan. Now you know how to skin a perch the right way and you also know how to not waste any meat. If you have a great perch recipe for us to try leave us a comment reply and tell us what it is do you have a favorite perch dish?

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