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Loin: The Prime CutDEFINITION:
Sides of a fish that have been cut away from the backbone and removed in one piece. Cut paral lel to the spine and muscle fibers, they run “with the grain.” Round fish like cod offer two fillets. Flatfish like flounder, halibut or sole offer four, two from the top side, two from the bottom. Fillets cut from a large flatfish and then further divided into boneless portions — often half of each fillet, or one-eighth of the entire fish — are called fletches. Fillets vary in length and thickness, depending on the size and species of fish from which they are taken. Fillets also vary greatly in color, depending on the species. Cod or haddock fillets, for example, are white. Bluefish can be grayish. Salmon fillets range from pink to a deep, rich orange.

Advantages

Convenience. Bones are nearly or completely removed, so fillets require little further processing. 

Versatility. Fillets absorb sauces well and can be fried, baked, broiled, sautéed or poached. Good portion control. Fillets can be sized for appropriate plate coverage.

Disadvantages

Shorter shelf life. Shelf life averages three to five days with fresh fillets, since the product is relatively thin but has a large surface area that can readily admit bacteria or dehydrate quickly. 

Easily overcooked. Extra care must be taken when cooking fillets, especially thin fillets of lean-meated fish species.

Checklist

  • Fillets should be well trimmed, neatly cut and exhibit no blood indicating that the fish was gaffed, bruised or otherwise mishandled. 
  • Skinned fillets should show no traces of skin attached. 
  • High-quality fillets have shiny, smooth surfaces. Poor-quality fillets exhibit curling at the edges, and the meat may be yellowish and gaping broadly in spots. 
  • Dullness and a gray or brownish color can be a sign of oxidized, aging product.

Types of Fillets

WHOLE FILLET
Not common in the U.S. market, a whole fillet — skin-on or skinless, including pinbones, nape and belly flap — offers buyers a lower-cost option than V-cut or J-cut fillets. It can also be trimmed to meet individual needs — a boon for foodservice operators who use trimmings for soup stocks or as flavor additives.

V-CUT
Removes the pinbone (a set of small bones found behind the ribs), along with a strip of flesh extending one-third of the fillet’s length along its lateral line, from the thickest front portion of the meat toward the tail. Boneless V-cut fillets decrease risk to consumers and eliminate the need for any further deboning.

J-CUT
Removes the pinbone and nape, a small, thin, fatty piece of meat on the lower side of the fillet, forward of the belly. The J-cut may also remove the thin belly meat just behind the nape. Premium, J-cut fillets are often the most expen sive and usually offer slightly less yield than V-cut fillets. Some processors offer a “Boston cut,” which is often preferred by upscale restaurants. This cut removes 90 percent of the nape and leaves a small portion of the tiny pinbones, which break down when cooked and become indistinguishable from the rest of the fillet.