The proper way to eat fish when served whole

One of the most popular posts in this blog is the piece on how to eat messy food. This current  post focuses on fish and was inspired by Robert Galbraith’s (J. K. Rowling) latest crime fiction novel, The Silkworm. One of the characters, Jerry Waldegrave ordered Dover sole, which the chef served whole. He immediately regretted ordering the fish, as he could not manage to get past the bone.

The Silkworm. The inspiration for this post

The Silkworm. The inspiration for this post

It is easy enough to eat fish when it is served in delicious morsels such as these:

People find it daunting to have fish when it is served whole like Nigella’s Red Mullet or a classic French Sole Meunière. It is great to serve whole fish at dinner parties; it is abundant, the very opposite of meagre. For this reason, it is one of the dishes commonly served during Chinese New Year.

Red Mullet with Sweet and Sour Shredded Salad from Nigella Summer

Red Mullet with Sweet and Sour Shredded Salad from Nigella Summer

The fish knife
You may be provided with a fish knife, depending on how formal the setting. Fish knives are specially shaped with a dull edge and a notched point. It is so designed to easily lift the bone and separate the meat.
Incidentally, I was informed that one can tell if a family is nouveau riche if their silverware contains a fish knife. This is because a fish knife is one of the newer inventions, and so would not be found in an heirloom silverware set. In any case, I am here to explain the proper way to eat fish served whole, with or without a fish knife.

Fish knife from Maxwell Williams

Fish knife from Maxwell Williams

Eating fish
Eat the top fillet was you normally would, starting from the head and working down. Only a small mouthful of a piece must be taken at a time. Fish must never be flipped. To get to the underside, the bone should be lifted up and  the meat eased out. Unless you are in your own home, leave the head and tail intact. Rebel at your own discretion.

Bon appétit,
EtiKate

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2 thoughts on “The proper way to eat fish when served whole

  1. Jerky

    Some notes on the post
    Fish in Chinese has the same pronunciation as abundant, hence fish is always present on the Chinese New Year. They want the coming year to be abundant/ plentiful.

    On eating fish- not flipping the fish is associated with a superstition. I was told by a Chinese classmate, that every time you flip a fish, a boat somewhere topples/sinks. Hence the Chinese are quite particular in following this method.

    See
    http://www.travelblogs.com/articles/dont-flip-the-fish-rules-of-etiquette-at-a-meal-in-china

    Reply
  2. etiquettebutterfly Post author

    Hello Jerky. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of Chinese dining customs with our readers! I’m glad the ‘flipping of fish’ is also frowned upon in China as it is here in Britain.

    Reply

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