Pin bones are pesky little buggers. Here you have a pristine fillet of fish and lurking just below the surface are these slippery needle-like bones that refuse to be easily removed. You can ask the fishmonger to remove them for you. But with a little practice, tenacity, and a handy pair of needle-nose pliers, you can do it yourself.
And remove them you must because biting into one of these bones — or worse, choking on one — is a highly unpleasant experience. Unfortunately, the things are too thin and slippery to pull out using your fingers alone. A pair of needle-nosed pliers like I use in the pictures above are the best tool for removing pin bones, but you could use a pair of tweezers in a pinch.
How to Remove Pin Bones from Fish Fillets
What You Need
1 fish fillet, ready to be de-pin-boned
1. Locate the Pin Bones - Lay the fish fillet skin-side down (usually the flatter surface, if the fish is skinned) on your work surface. Feel along the length of the fish fillet with your fingertips. The pin bones tend to be in the thickest part of the fish toward the middle.
Pin bones anchor the fish's muscles cross-wise, so you'll just feel the very tips of the bones. They are evenly spaced a few inches apart, and you'll usually find more and bigger pin bones toward the head of the fish with smaller pin bones toward the tale. If you can't find any pin bones, it's likely that the fishmonger removed them prior to putting the fish on display.
2. Grab the Tip of the Bone - When you locate a pin bone, press the flesh next to the tip gently so that the bone pokes above the surface just slightly. Grab this exposed bit of bone with the pliers.
3. Gently Pull the Bone Out - You'll feel some resistance when you first tug on the bone. Stand your ground, and gently, but firmly pull the bone out of the fillet in as smooth a motion as possible. Pin bones are slightly angled toward the head of the fish, so pull sideways as well as up.
4. Repeat with Remaining Pin Bones - After one or two, you'll get a better feel for grabbing the bone, the angle, and how much force to use as you pull it out. Repeat until the fish is bone-free and then continue with cooking the fish.
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(Images: Emma Christensen)