Wondering how to remove those pesky pin bones from a piece of fish? The Never Cook Naked Guys weigh in.
Pesky Pin Bones
Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: What exactly are those tiny pin bones in my salmon fillet? Why are they there? And how do I remove them out without making it look like the garbage disposal spat out the fish?—Pinhead
Dear Pinhead: When you fillet a fish, you can easily see its backbone and the attached rib bones, which readily lift away from the supple cooked fillet. But a larger fish such as salmon also has smaller intramuscular pin bones that give the fish more stability, allowing it to swim faster and harder. (You try jumping up a waterfall after swimming hundreds of miles upstream and you see if you don’t need pin bones.) Therein lies the beauty of evolution.
By and large, pin bones are soft and edible, unlike those bigger choking hazards that are attached to the backbone. In some cultures—we’re looking at you, Japan—fish bones are considered a delicacy. To the rest of us, even the most petite of pin bones aren’t exactly considered aesthetically pleasing. We think of them as ouch-inducing.
Back to your salmon. You want to get rid of the pin bones. Some suggest pliers. We think not. Ours have sat in a dank basement for years, waiting for a straight man to come over and fix the plumbing. Try tweezers on those pesky pin bones instead—unless you’ve done some manscaping lately. Better yet, buy a pair of tweezers just for the kitchen and keep the other pair in the bathroom. Even better yet, make sure your kitchen tweezers have blunt edges so they don’t split or splinter the pin bones as you grasp and extract them.
That all said, how do you find the offending pin bones? They’re easy to spot when you’re choking but not so simple to see when you stare at a naked fillet on your cutting board. In fact, you can find the pin bones with the sense of touch, not sight. Run your fingers gently along the flesh in both directions. Don’t feel them? Your fishmonger may have already taken them out for you. (Not certain? Check your receipt. If that salmon was pricier than you’d like, chances are the pin bones have been removed.)
And for goodness sake, pull the pin bones out in the same direction and plane that they’re in, as yanking the thing out any other way will tear the delicate flesh. Feel free to follow this advice with your other tweezers as well.
Our very clever, very clothed Never Cook Naked columnists are at your disposal, able to troubleshoot everything from questionable table etiquette to tricky cooking techniques (as well as, natch, proper cooking attire). Ask us your question in a comment below!
Originally published September 11, 2012.