Food for the thoughtful: A step-by-step guide to cleaning fish

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We fall for it every year, like a dog that fails to notice that its human is only pretending to throw the ball: This sunny spell isn’t spring, of course, but we can’t help hoping it might be. Whether or not we fall for Mother Nature’s dummy, as the nation’s rivers begin to open we can’t help at this time of year turning our minds – however fleetingly – to fishing: the urgency of a salmon river in full spate; a laid-back afternoon contemplating a mayfly floating about on the surface of a lake or loch; a stiff sea breeze and a string of mackerel hooks. At the risk of patronising our regular readers but for the edification and education of the next generation, we though it might be worth a re-cap on how to deal with them (the fish, not the next generation), once we’ve knocked ‘em on the head. 1. Whether you’re going to do this in situ or back in the kitchen, you’ll need a sharp knife. You’re welcome to try with a blunt one but you’ll not have any fun, you’ll curse when you cut yourself and your poor old fish will probably look like it’s been depth charged by a frigate rather than reeled in with the utmost finesse by one of his or her generation’s finest anglers. 2. Pop the fish on its side and hold it down flat with the hand that’s not wielding the knife. 3. Channel your inner Spanish Inquisitor and pop the knifepoint into the fish’s anus, with the leading edge facing the belly. 4. Gently, and without going deeper than necessary, slice your way up to the fish’s head. When you get there, take the knife out and cut laterally at the gills to take the head off. 5. Pull out the organs and intestines. 6. Use the point of your knife, or a spoon or even a thumbnail to scrape away the black seam that you’ll find running along the spine. Finally, give everything a good rinse (oh, and don’t forget to clean the sink). Then help yourself to a rather large, rather strong drink and potter upstairs for a bath. Tight lines!