Dear Tricia, So on the fish casserole note, I wonder if you can tell me what the secret is to deboning a fish. I found some gorgeous trout last week and ended up pitching it out because it was so full of bones it was inedible. Suggestions?
Yeah, that's the thing about eating animals... they have bones. And when it comes to larger animals like cows or buffalo, or even just chickens, their bones are much larger and no problem to get rid of. I mean, the best tasting part of a T-Bone steak is eating the meat right off the bone, but that's just not the case with fish. The bones are small, pointy, and they hurt like hell when you accidentally swallow one, or when you're choking it up. Gross.
There's really no secret to deboning fish quickly or easily. If you're talking about buying a side of fish at the grocery store (not an entire fish) it just takes a clean pair needle nose pliers. It's an annoying, painstaking process that effing blows, but it does the job. The tiny, skinny little bones that are lined up separately along the entire side of the fish are called pin bones. I call them pain in the ass bones. If you lay the fish on its side and run your finger along it, you should feel them just ever so slightly poking out. Those little bastards are playing peek a boo and its now your job to take your needle nose pliers, grab the tip of the bone, and just pull each one out. If you run your knife along the bones, that should help them poke out a little further.
If you don't have needle nose pliers, tweezers work too, they're just a little harder to hold on to if they get wet, and you might end up pulling a Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman where she accidentally flings escargot across the room. Except take out the escargot and charming Maitre D', and add flying tweezers and yourself, frustrated and smelling like trout.
After you've pulled out all of the pin bones, you'll want to run it under water and rinse it off to make sure there's not a camouflage bone stuck on the fish. Not the best way to surprise your guests.
This is a case where I've found that shopping at a higher end grocery store can come in handy. If I go to my Whole Foods seafood department and ask them to debone the $60 of Chilean sea bass I'm purchasing, they're most likely going to do it, even if that damn hippie does it with a fake smile. (And I'm allowed to call them hippies, FYI. I worked at/got fired from Whole Foods and its true! Hippies! Lots of 'em! But if they'll debone my fish, I don't really don't care.) If I go to my regular joe grocery store down the street and ask them to debone my fish, they're more likely to roll their eyes and help the guy behind me instead.
You can debone your fish before or after you cook it, but I find that for ease of handling, it's a little easier to deal with cold fish than hot fish. If you're not eating the fish right away, you might find that 1. Letting the fish cool down first helps 2. The bones actually come out a little easier when its cooked.
If we're talking about deboning an entire fish, back bone, ribs, and all, my trying to describe on a blog it isn't going to help you. You need to watch someone, and unfortunately, my video blogs are much further down the road. So I went on You Tube and tried to find the most comprehensive video (geez, there's so much crap on the internet), and also one with a dreamy looking guy as a bonus. So far, this one's the winner.
I'm sorry I don't have an easier fix for you. Unfortunately, this one just take some good ol' grunt work, but if you're not crazy about the grody feeling of needle-like surprises poking you all the way down to your belly, it's definitely worth it. Plus, it gives you an excuse to go to the hardware store and buy a fun new toy. And if you happen to find a pair of pliers in hot pink or perhaps a nice shade of lavender, feel free to ship them to me... I promise I'll pay you back!
*I would just like to point out that yes, that IS Steven Seagal manhandling a fish guitar. Is it real? Probably not, but I like the idea of muscles and ponytails and gills and music.