As the name suggests, a fillet knife is a kitchen knife that primarily aids in removing the fish flesh from the bones. It has a defining thin profile and often uses a trailing point whose backward edge curves upward gently. Most western filleting knives no longer have this upward carve, but the best Japanese brands still retain it. The thin profile and the blade design allow precision and maneuvering around the fish's skeleton and even skinning. Generally, a fillet knife measures 6 – 11 inches or 15cm – 28 cm. Larger knives are for larger fish like tuna. Below is a guide on all you should know about fish fillet knives.
Uses of the fillet knife in the kitchen
The obvious function of a filleting knife is prepping fish. However, the knife has several other uses beyond skinning fish and separating fish flesh from the backbone. Other areas you can use a fish fillet knife are;
- Cutting chicken: besides the hard joints and bones, a fillet knife can be handy when slicing chicken, especially the breast pieces. It helps you get thin slices, and you can use it to remove any fat. You can also use it to open up chicken pieces to make them large.
- Decorating vegetables: presentation matters a lot whether you are a professional chef or home cooking expert. The precision and agility of fillet knives will help you get all the intricate designs you want, whether it is on carrots, radishes, or tomatoes.
- Cleaning fish: it is easy to forget the work that goes into getting a fish ready for cooking beyond just filleting and cutting it into pieces. The fillet knife helps to clean the fish removing entrails and gills. You should, however, remember to clean the knife with alcohol or water to prevent the knife from getting the bacteria to the fish.
- Meat slicing: Like when cutting chicken, a fillet knife will be useful whenever you want thin meat slices for certain recipes. You do not have to get a meat slicer to obtain neat results.
- Slicing and prepping fruits: the fillet knife is also excellent when you need to peel your fruits from citrus fruits to avocado, beetroot, and potatoes. They ensure you only get the peel off with no flesh wasted. They are also handy when you are removing the pith and preparing fruits and vegetables for salads.
What kind of knife is best for filleting fish?
As with every other kitchen knife, finding the right fish fillet knife involves careful research and consideration of several factors. These include;
1. Type of fillet knife
There are two kinds of fish fillet knives; electric knives and manual knives. Electric knives come with two serrated blades that cut back and forth on opposite sides, which creates a sawing action. A motorized handle powers the motion and enables the knife to cut through meat quickly. Unfortunately, electric motors are hard to control, and only an experienced chef and fishers handling large fish volumes should use them.
The manual fish fillet knife, on the other hand, offers excellent control and allows for precision cuts. It also relies on your arm strength and direction and easily meets usual kitchen filleting needs. This article focuses on the manual fillet knife.
2. Knife origin
Another consideration is to look at the origin of the knife or the tradition. There are two main origin sources, Japanese and German. These two differ in their sharpness, edge, thickness, and hardness. For starters, German fillet knives will have a blade angle of about 18 degrees, while Japanese knives will maintain a blade angle between 10 to 15 degrees. This difference makes the Japanese angles sharper, while German knives have superior durability.
Another difference is in the presence of bolsters in most German knives, while the Japanese models often lack them. As a result, Japanese fish fillet knives are lighter while the German ones have sufficient strength and weight that aids in cutting through thick meat and vegetables. Another aspect that adds strength to the German knives is their use of full tang. Most Japanese models prefer partial tongue for better manoeuvrability.
While both traditions use steel alloys, Japanese knives will have a higher carbon content, making them hold their edge longer. They are, however, prone to chipping and need extra caution to prevent corrosion and staining. Your choice between Japanese and German fillet knives will depend on your needs and preferences.
3. Blade material
Different blade materials are available, and your choice will come down to cost, durability, and performance. Ceramic blades are easy to sharpen and hold their edge longer. However, they chip easily, and high-quality ceramic blades cost a lot. There is an option of stainless steel, which is a common material meaning the prices are not expensive. It is also durable and easy to sharpen, and especially resistant to rust. Stainless steel blades will also hold their edge when cutting through meat or even into a cutting board.
Carbon steel is more expensive than stainless steel, but it is easy to sharpen and holds its edge for a long time. It is, however, susceptible to chipping and rusting, thus calls for high maintenance. The other alternative is high carbon steel which brings together the advantages of stainless steel and carbon steel. It is expensive though you get superior performance, strength, and durability.
4. Handle material
The handle material impacts your control when using the knife, hygiene, maintenance, and comfort level. There are various handle materials used, including wood, laminate, rubber, plastic, and metal. Each comes with its advantages and potential setbacks, so it is up to your comfort and preference.
Wood is comfortable in your hands, and it has classic aesthetic looks. However, it requires high maintenance, and it also can hold onto bacteria while the durability is not at par with the other options. On the other hand, plastic is readily available, inexpensive, hygienic, and light, making it one of the common handle materials. It can be slippery, though, and depending on the plastic, it can be a bit fragile should it drop.
Laminate is a material produced from a mix of wood and plastic. It offers the beauty of wood and plastic strengths, including being easy to clean and added durability. You can also opt for rubber which gives you the best grip with no slippery issues and easy cleaning on top of excellent hygiene.
Where color is important, your best options are plastic and rubber as they are likely to come in different colors. You may need different colors to match your décor or other utensils. In other cases, color coding may be necessary to designate which fillet knife can be used with raw fish only.
5. Blade length
Blade length is often a matter of personal preference, but there are a few factors you should pay attention to. Fillet knives come in various sizes, and they match different kinds and sizes of fish. For example, short blades are excellent when filleting smaller fish like crappies, sunfish, and yellow perch.
Medium-sized blades measure around 7-7.5 inches, and they are excellent for larger fish like walleyes, bass, and trout. On the other hand, long blades will offer efficiency, power, and greater control when you are preparing the largest fish, including the broad-shouldered pike and large salmon. The challenge with large blades would be to carry them around.
Flexibility is one of the strengths of a fillet knife. It should be able to bend easily as you move around the meat and skeleton without difficulty. A non-flexible blade will get stuck in the skeleton structures and can cause accidents. You thus want a blade with a maximum hardness in the mid-50s.
7. Ergonomics and safety features
Ergonomic design is vital given how involving filleting can get. You want a knife that will not lead to overexertion when you use it, and it should fit comfortably in your hand while being well balanced. It should also have an excellent grip to prevent slipping, which can cause cut accidents. For further accident prevention, you should also consider the safety features, which include finger guards or a hilt that prevents the finger from sliding onto the blade.
The price range for fillet knives is wide, ensuring there is something for every price bracket. Several factors influence the knife's price, including the material used, the brand, whether it has been handcrafted, and general overall quality. The price can range from $20 to several hundreds of dollars. Consider your fillet knife as a long-term investment and forego cheap options for something that will last longer and offer superior performance.
Tips on sharpening your fillet knife
Fillet knives depend on their sharp edge to work efficiently and safely too. Thus, sharpening is an essential part of their maintenance. However, over-sharpening is also a real risk since the process of sharpening does take away metal from the knife, which shortens the knife’s lifespan. It can happen if you do sharpen the knife regularly, use the wrong sharpening tool or apply too much pressure when doing it.
Your usage of the fillet knife will determine how often you use it. On average, you should look to sharpen your fillet knife once every couple of months and only when necessary. To keep it in top shape, opt for honing it weekly or after every use.
Best fillet knives
Examples of some of the best knives in the market are;
Wusthof Classic Series Fillet Knife 16cm
If you are looking for a mid-sized fillet knife and one perfect for salmon, you cannot find any better than the Wusthof Classic Series Fillet Knife. At 16cm, it is just the right length allowing for easy handling, but at the same time, it is extremely durable and sharp. Its features allow for creating wafter thin slices just as how you want your salmon.
It is also excellent for other fishes because it has dimples at the edge that create air cushions preventing the tender fish meat from sticking to the knife. Other features include an ergonomic handle and a well-balanced blade with a deburred spine for easy balancing.
F DICK Red Spirit Filleting Knife Flexible 18cm
F Dick makes for an exciting choice, but its most significant selling point is its excellent weight distribution and the symmetric and round shape. These two allow for easy and comfortable handling, which adds to its precision and extensive use.
It is also super razor-sharp and holds the edge longer. Its handle is made from non-slip plastic, while its full tang lends strength that complements its flexibility. It's also full tang, and its bolster and heel are made from stainless steel.
F DICK ActiveCut Filleting Knife Flexible 18cm
The F DICK ActiveCut Filleting Knife Flexible is the perfect knife if you are looking for a fillet knife that can double up as a boning knife. It has a straight design with the blade and handle connecting seamlessly with no spaces in between.
The high-quality alloy ensures your knife remains durable even with its lightweight, and it maximizes its sharpness. It works excellently when filleting a fish or removing bones, meat, and cartilage from meat. The knife comes perfectly balanced and with a lifetime warranty.
ZWILLING J.A. Henckels Four Star Filleting Knife 18cm
This knife from Zwilling has features that ensure you get the best qualities you want in a filleting knife; sharpness, durability, and comfort. With an acute edge angle and a hand-polished thin edge, you get superior sharpness. Its high carbon content in the stainless steel also ensures the knife retains its edge longer.
On the other hand, it boasts an ergonomic design with excellent weight distribution, a comfortable handle, and a seamless blade and handle connection. The blade also retains excellent flexibility giving the chef sufficient dexterity when filleting or deboning.
Where should you get your fillet knife?
The right shopping platform has a significant role in the kind of knife you get, and House of Knives is one such place. Our wide collection of fillet knives from the leading global brands will help you make the right comparisons and find the perfect fillet knife for your kitchen.