The course offers students expert tuition in preparing flat and round fish for the table. Nick Fisher says “Like many fishermen, I was handy enough in gutting fish and slapping them on the barbecue but I wanted to learn how to fillet quickly and properly. The course is limited to eight people and includes a fascinating tour of Billingsgate market conducted by the Fishmongers’ Company market inspectors.
“When I arrived, I was one of seven men and we were all issued with 6in flexible steel filleting knives,” says Fisher. “And our instructor Bob was taking no chances. ‘When I tell you to stop, I mean stop,’ he said, with a tang of Cockney authority. ‘Knives down, don’t move a muscle. Now, are there any left-handers among you?’ he asked bluntly. ‘Cos if there is, you’ll have to stand right down the end of the block,’ referring to the huge, stainless steel workstation littered with chopping-boards and bristling with more knives than a Gurkha’s picnic. ‘We get a left-hander and a right-hander together side by side? I tell you, it’s like a scene from Zorro.'”
Bob’s teaching method was “brusque but brilliant”, according to Fisher. “He took us through one filleting exercise after another, fish by fish, starting with a mackerel 10in long and ending with a salmon big enough to feed two families. ‘Remember, if you can fillet a mackerel, you can fillet a salmon,’ he said. ‘They’re both round fish. Exactly the same technique for both of them.'”
As well as round fish, the course covers flat fish such as plaice, lemon and Dover sole, with practical instruction and hands-on experience in gutting and filleting each species. Fisher reckons, “I filleted my first fish nearly 40 years ago, and since then, I’ve done my fair share on decks of boats, on beaches, harbours, docks, in kitchens, at barbies, even in an ice tent in Lapland, but I probably learnt more in a couple of hours with Bob than in all those years of stabbing around on my own.
“At one point he asked, ‘Who wants to see a canoe?’ and his blade flashed around a mackerel, removing its bones without piercing the belly cavity or taking off the head. The resulting canoe shape was perfect for stuffing. He also showed us how to clean and invert squid to make perfect squid rings, how to keep fillets joined together for smoking or pickling – and even how to neatly remove a bass’s eyes.”
Fisher recommends the course to anyone who loves fish. “It costs £190 and you get to take your own fish home with you.” And the fees are used wisely too. “The proceeds from the courses go into the Seafood Training School, which is a charitable company,” explains CJ Jackson, the school’s director. “We use the money to teach young people fish and fish cooking, and to raise their awareness of the health benefits of eating fish,” she continues.
Enrol to be a domestic god
Knife Skills – An Introduction to Fish Processing Public Course, £190 Billingsgate Seafood Training School, Office 30 Billingsgate Market, Trafalgar Way, London E14 5ST, tel 020 7517 3548 or visit the website