If you’ve ever watched a fishmonger prepare a fillet of fish for you from behind the counter, you’ve probably seen one of them plucking at it with what looks like tweezers. This process is a courtesy from the fishmonger, who is removing the pin bones from your fish so that you don’t have to. As part of Wild Alaskan’s quality assurance, our processors aim to remove all pin bones from our wild-caught fillets, but human error can mean you may sometimes encounter pin bones.
That said, removing pin bones is easy enough to do on your own. Expertly removing the pin bones from your fillet of wild Alaskan catch takes just a minute of your time and some informed coordination. And keep in mind: sockeye and coho salmon are the two species that would show pin bones. Other species we offer, such as cod and halibut, could potentially have pin bones as well, but they are removed by a j-cut or a v-cut, so there is less likelihood of seeing them.
What Are Pin Bones?
Pin bones aren’t really bones, technically speaking. They’re actually calcified ligaments that are found in larger species of fish like salmon. All the same, they can make for an unpleasant surprise in your meal if you’re not expecting to find them. As mentioned above, Wild Alaskan removes pin bones during processing, first through an automated machine. Then, we follow up to remove any remaining bones by hand, as removing the pin bones is a delicate process — especially with fresh fillets, which don’t release the bones readily.
While you will be receiving fillets that are processed to be pin bone free, before cooking you’ll also want to check your fillet to see if there were any we missed along the way.
Pulling out pin bones carelessly can tear up your fillet, turning your beautiful meal into something less visually appealing. But there are a few tools that you can use to help you remove the pin bones the right way.
A proper set of fish bone pliers or fish tweezers are ideal, as they’ll allow you to grab the very tip of the pin bone and pull it from the fillet without tearing up any of the meat in the process. If you don’t have the proper culinary equipment, you can improvise with a clean set of needle-nose pliers or tweezers from your medicine cabinet, or even your fingers if you’re nimble.
The first thing you’ll want to do is locate the pin bones. You’ll usually find the bones running along the thickest part of the fillet; if you press down on the fillet with your fingers, you’ll notice the ends of the bones sticking up, a few millimeters apart from one another. The Kitchn has a short slideshow that shows you what exactly this looks like, if you need a visual aid. Keep in mind that the pin bones are set diagonally in the fillet, not perpendicular to it.
Starting from one end of the fillet, you’ll be removing these pin bones one by one. Using one hand to keep the fillet in place, use your tool of choice to grasp the end of the pin bone that is sticking out from the flesh, then gently pull out in the direction in which the bones are laying, not up or against the grain; you’re trying to slip the pin bone out of place, the same way you would if you were trying to remove a splinter from your finger.
You’ll feel some resistance as you pull the pin bone out. Discard the pin bones once you’re through, and give your fillet a final check. If you’ve missed any, it’s not going to hurt your fillet, but trust us: You will want to be thorough, as the pin bones will be much harder to find when you’re moments away from enjoying your delicious meal.