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A salmon fillet: no bone, but skin on the
bottom. Photo courtesy DailyPerricone.com.
You’ll note that some fish recipes, like the one below for Pretzel-Crusted Tuna, call for fish steaks. Other recipes call for fillets. What’s the difference?
It’s all about the cut.
To fillet (it’s a verb as well as a noun), the flesh is cut whole away from the backbone of the fish by cutting lengthwise along one side, parallel to the backbone.
Fillets do not contain any pieces of the larger bones, but some species have smaller, intramuscular bones (called pins) within the flesh.
Butterfly fillets are a specialty cut, produced by cutting the fillets on each side in such a way that they are held together by the flesh and skin of the belly.
The skin may be removed before the fish is filleted.
What’s the difference between a fillet and a filet?
Just the language, which impacts spelling and pronunciation. Fillet (FILL-it) is English and filet (fee-LAY) is French.
With a steak, the flesh is cut crosswise (perpendicular to the spine), cutting through the bone. The resulting steak may include a piece of bone and skin, or it can be boneless and skinless, especially with larger fish.
Steaks are usually cut with fish that are larger than 10 pounds.
With very large fish (a swordfish or tuna can be hundreds of pounds, if not 1,000 pounds or more), a cross-cut is too large for a single serving. With such large fish, the steaks are cut into smaller pieces that resemble fillets, but are more even/rectangular.
IS ONE BETTER THAN THE OTHER?
Considered more elegant in appearance than steaks, fillets have been traditionally used by restaurant chefs. More casual eateries are more likely to use salmon steaks these days; and of course, they’re in your grocer’s fresh and frozen fish cases.
A salmon steak. Photo courtesy Tbilisi.all.biz.
However, more than a few people claim that bone-in beef steaks taste so much better than boneless cuts. So why wouldn’t it be the same with bone-in fish?
This article does a very good job of explaining why the argument for bone superiority may be specious.
There are also recipes that require one or the other by definition. Fish and chips, for example, requires fillets.
A final consideration: Because they are thicker than fish fillets, fish steaks are less likely to fall apart when cooking. Cod, dorado (mahi-mahi), tuna, larger varieties of salmon, and swordfish are typically cut into steaks.
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