As soon as a snapper comes on board my boat it is dispatched immediately. I normally use a brain spike made from a sharpened Phillips head screw driver, but a couple of sharp blows with a small baton or ‘billy’ as they are often referred to will be just as effective. The reason for this is that it minimises lactic acid build up in the flesh and also prevents bruising of the flesh. Straight after the fish is dispatched it should be placed in the ice box or esky.
Once back at the cleaning tables, the first thing to do is take a fillet of both sides of the fish. Just make a straight cut along the vertical line of the fish behind the pectoral fin. Then work the edge of the blade as close as possible along the backbone towards the tail, trying to keep as much flesh on the fillet as possible.
Next, remove the rib cage. The best way to do this is to find the last rib towards the tail end of the fillet, then cut the whole lot out. With snapper, I’m not convinced that it’s worth messing around, particularly smaller ones, and trying to delicately remove the rib cage. The net gain in flesh on the fillet is negligible.
Now this method of filleting the fish involves no scaling. This is mainly because I hate scaling fish and there are easier, quicker and less messy ways of getting rid of fish scales, all you need is a good quality sharp knife. Place the fillet, skin side down, on the cleaning table then starting at the tail end, run the edge of the blade in a delicate cutting action between the flesh and the skin. To get the best results, keep the edge of the blade slightly angled downwards during this step.
Now remove the bones that run down the lateral line. Do this by locating the bones then making an incision on either side of them so that the two incisions create a ‘V’ shape.
These bones generally finish about a third to half way down the fillet, depending on the size of the snapper. If you make long enough incisions you should be able to cut all of them out in one go. Again, like in the previous step, make sure your knife is nice and sharp to avoid butchering the fillet.
A quick wipe down with paper towel and they’re ready to cook! Remember: always avoid rinsing saltwater fish with freshwater when possible, it can be the quickest way to ruin flesh texture and taste.
Snapper can be found from southern Queensland to as far south as Tasmania and from southern Western Australia to as far east as Lord Howe Island and New Zealand.
The largest snapper caught in Australian waters are taken in the Vincent and Spencer gulfs in S.A.
Juvenile snapper (fish less than 2kg) are referred to as pinkies, squire and ruggers depending on what state you are in.
Large snapper are sometimes referred to as nobbies, old man snapper or as just ‘reds’.
Deformities on the nose of some larger snapper are quite common, particularly in southern fish. Although there is still some debate as to the exact cause, it is believed to be as a result of the snapper’s habit of feeding on sharp broken ground, then getting a cut that becomes infected and develops into a lump of scar tissue.