Chef Phil’s Fillet Tips for Red Snapper

Northwest Florida Seafood

We caught up with Chef Phil McDonald of Bud & Alley's Pizza Bar and Black Bear Bread Co. in Northwest Florida, and we were lucky enough to get his tips for filleting some fresh Gulf fish! Follow his advice below and you'll be savoring the taste in no time:

  • First, you have to scale the fish. Once that is done, rinse the fish under cold-running water and pat it dry. Put it on the cutting board with its back facing you.
  • Insert a knife just above the backbone near the head. Use only a sharp knife, such as a fillet knife or chef’s knife.
  • Make a cut from the head to the belly, taking care only to cut through the top fillet and slightly behind the gill cover. Be sure to include the meaty section at the top of its head.
  • For your second cut, turn your knife about 90-degrees and take just as much care as you move the knife along the length of the fish. Your goal with this cut is to separate the fillet from the backbone. As you cut, press firmly down on the fish to keep it from sliding around.
  • Finish removing your fillet with a third cut through the skin at the tail.
  • Repeat those three cuts on the other side of the red snapper. Once you have done this part, remove the belly flap by cutting just under the rib bones to the fillet’s bottom, at a 45-degree angle. The belly is thin on a red snapper in comparison to tuna, for example.
  • Lastly, check for pin bones. These fine bones run along the fillet’s mid-line and are difficult to see. With your fingers, feel along the fillet to locate each bone and pluck them out with a pair of fish pliers or needle-nose pliers (be sure to clean the pliers first). Pull each bone in the direction in which it points.

Whether you’re going to try and fillet on your own, or you’ve already purchased fish fillets from one of Northwest Florida's fresh local seafood markets, Chef Phil wants you to try it how it was intended to be eaten—raw! Crudo, to be more specific. Crudo is the Italian-style way of serving raw fish and is very ingredient-driven. With Crudo dishes, you don’t need much more than fresh fish, oil, and some seasonings. In fact, Chef Phil has even shared with us one of his favorite ways to season and eat Gulf Red Snapper:

Gulf Snapper Crudo

1 red snapper filet (very fresh)

1/2 lemon ( zest & juice)

Pinch of flaky sea salt (preferably Jacobsen)

Chervil fronds or finely chopped chives

2 tablespoons high quality extra virgin olive oil

Pinch of Chili de arbol (finely ground)

2 fresh radishes sliced thin

  1. Using a very sharp knife, slice the snapper fillets into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Divide the pieces evenly between 2 plates, laying them out in a line or a pattern that looks nice.
  2. Freshly grind a few cracks of pepper over the snapper, Place radish onto fish and between pieces of fish, then sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Squeeze lemon juice on to the fish, drizzle with olive oil. Finish with a very small amount of Chili de arbol and fresh cut chives or chervil fronds and lemon zest. Serve immediately.
  3. And as the saying goes, “bon appétit!”

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Jody Manning

I grew up on the gulf coast. Cajun roots. This recipe is similar to many we put together on the bayou. However, it’s the seasonings and simplicity that set it apart. Simple recipe with taste of “I’ve prepped all day”. Love it!