#2 Cleaned bangus
#3 Fin removed
#5 Cutting ribs
#7 Pulling ribs
#8 Centerline spines
#10-1 Opening seam
#10-2 Pulling spines
#10-4 Lower seam
#11-1 Cut across
Spines: For people not accustomed to eating Carp, Bangus
has a major problem - the flesh is shot through with about 180 thin
spines. These are part of the fish's sensory system, allowing it to
detect tiny changes in the water column. Fortunately, the spines are in
bundles so you don't have to deal with each one individually. Unlike
the Bangus' distant relative, the Carp, these spines can be removed
Here's the procedure for boneless bangus fillets: It may look like an
awful lot of trouble but it really isn't that bad, especially after
you've done a couple. Be sure to select a large bangus because a smaller
one is just as much trouble for less fish.
You will need, besides your cutting board and kitchen prep knife, a
filleting knife, kitchen shears and a small pair of long nose pliers. A
larger pair will not give you the sensitivity you need.
- First scale the fish. Bangus is completely covered with shiny silver
scales which adhere well and will take a bit of energy to scrape off
(some recipes fry the skin side crisp with the scales on).
- Clean the fish the usual way - bangus has a very long body cavity
similar to a trout. After you've removed the innards and gills you'll find
there's a gelatinous deposit of belly fat between the black cavity lining
and the abdominal wall. Whether you retain this or scrape it off depends
on your recipe and intent. See our
Milkfish page for details.
- Cut out the dorsal fin by slicing in deeply along both sides.
- Make the usual cuts around the collar in front and use kitchen shears
to cut the backbone to remove the head. Cut off the tail and toss both
head and tail into the stock pot.
- Cutting from the bottom side of the fish with your filleting knife,
make filleting cuts from the back end of the cavity to the tail. You
should now be able to open the fish down to the backbone as shown. With
your kitchen shears cut the ribs away from the backbone.
- With your filleting knife continue to cut down from the backbone right
through the tail end of the fish. You should now be able to remove the
backbone and have the fish in two neat halves. Toss the backbone into the
- Remove the ribs. They are easy to find and very easy to remove with
long nose pliers - the least troublesome small bones in this fish.
- Now hold the fillet with your fingers on the center of the skin side
at the front to help expose the tiny spines you'll feel sticking up along
the centerline for the first couple of inches. Pull them out (straight
forward) with long nose pliers.
- Carefully feel along the cuts where both the head and tail were cut
off and you will feel spine ends. Pull those spines out with long nose
- Method #1 - Now you are ready to remove all those embedded
spines. This is the method I have the best success with and it leaves a
pretty good looking fillet:
- Looking at your fish halves you'll notice a faint seam in the flesh
about 1/3 in from the top edge. Gently open this seam with your fingers
or filleting knife, prying apart rather than cutting. Be careful not to
cut through the spines deep down in the flesh, nearer the skin than the
- Now you will be able to feel the spine bundles all along the bottom
of the separation - they're actually easier to feel with the pliers than
with your fingers. Take your pliers and pull each one, holding down the
flesh on both sides with your fingers to minimize tearing.
- Feel all along the bottom of the separation to make sure you didn't
miss any spine bundles, and check the end cuts one more time.
- Now find the similar seam below the centerline and pry it open as
you did the one above. Remove the spines just as along the upper seam
- but there are a lot fewer of them, they're thinner, and that seam
runs only from the tail to the body cavity.
- Method #2 - I understand this is the method used to remove the
spines in Philippine fish factories so it's probably faster for an
- Gently make cuts across the flesh above the centerline, being careful
not to cut the spine bundles which are about 2/3 through the flesh. Should
you cut through the spines you will still be able to pull them because you
can feel the ends on both sides of the cut - but it'll be a lot
more trouble. Pros use 4 cuts but I use 5 because I'm not as expert.
- Pull each spine bundle from the flesh on each side of the cut, holding
the flesh in place with your fingers to minimize tearing. Don't forget
that aft of the body cavity there will be spines below the centerline
- Carefully feel both walls and the bottom in all the cuts for any
evidence of remaining spines.
- Now, for whichever method you used, cut off the last inch at the tail
end, it's still full of spines whether you think it is or not, and feel the
freshly cut surface for evidence of spines you still need to pull.
- Check the cut surface at the head end one more time, this is the most
likely place for spines to escape your notice.
- By either method you should now have two sides of bangus, boneless,
spineless and recipe ready.