How to Cut Frozen Fish (Which Tool to Use)


Whether you are out ice-fishing or just buying a slab of frozen fish at the market, you obviously don’t want to thaw and refreeze fish. Therefore, it’s best to cut it while frozen, portion it out, and store it as is. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done but is possible with the right tool for the job.

The best way to cut frozen fish is with a knife or implement that has a serrated edge. Butchers are known to use a heavy-duty band saw, but a hand-held crosscut or pruning saw works as well. An electric carving knife is also a good option. Just make sure you clean and sanitize the blade before using it.

Pro Tip: You may want to buy a dedicated saw for this task and keep it stored away specifically for fish. Here is one that I recommend. I really like how it’s curved slightly, which allows good contact on a fish and thus easier cutting.

Keep in mind that you want your fish to stay as frozen as possible. This allows the fish to last longer and stay fresh until you are ready to prepare your soon-to-be delicious meal.

Cutting Frozen Fish

Man Holding a Frozen Fish Caught Ice Fishing

Are you having a hard time cutting through that rock-hard piece of fish and do not have a professionally used saw to fillet it? There are ways you can do it at home with the supplies you have on hand already.

Getting the fish and your supplies prepped before you start is critical to the fish’s freshness. Once you take the fish out of the freezer or bring it home from the store’s freezer, you want to get it into its next stop as soon as possible, whether that is back in the freezer or preparing to cook.

Consumable fish live in deeper, colder waters, barely above freezing, which means they are very perishable outside of that environment. Putting fish on the counter at room temperature is like putting a slab of beef out in the sun; not its ideal environment. So if you plan to put your fish back into the freezer, be quick to cut, package, and put your fish away.

1. Get the Supplies Ready

Get out your chosen cutting implement and sanitize it before use.

If you are vacuum sealing your filets, get out your sealer with enough bags and a Sharpie to mark and date it. 

Say you do not have a vacuum sealer, you can still go with the freezer bag option. Get out some wax paper or plastic wrap and cut it into pieces for your fish portions, as many as you will have. Get out your freezer bags and a Sharpie as well to mark and date it.

2. Prepare the Fish

First of all, keep the fish in the packaging until you are ready to put it under the knife. Exposing it to oxygen allows toxins and bacteria to build up, so you want to limit its time out of the package. 

If you have an electric carving knife, you can just cut the fish while frozen, so you do not need to thaw. If you do not have one and no serrated knife, you will want to let the fish thaw slightly before cutting it. This will allow the knife to go through the meat easily.

Do not let it thaw completely, only enough to be able to cut through it; you should never completely thaw and refreeze fish. 

You can do this in a few different ways. 

  1. The best way is to transfer the fish from the freezer to the fridge for a few hours until it becomes slightly soft.
  2. Another quicker way is to run the package under cold water for a few minutes.
  3. The last way is to fill a container with cold water and submerge it for a few minutes, again just until the fish is soft enough to cut through.

Either of these last two methods will allow you to defrost frozen fish quickly, while the first option is the most optimal way to defrost your frozen fish when you are not short on time. 

Do not wash fish in hot water. This drastic temperature change will change the texture of the fish and make it mushy. It will also encourage bacteria growth. Frozen fish should only be washed using cold water.

Also, this goes without saying but you should never thaw frozen fish on the counter or in the microwave.

3. Get Ready to Cut

Next, you want to get out what you will need to cut the fish. This includes your chosen cutting implement and a cutting board. If you have an electric carving knife, you can use that instead; and is probably the best option at home.

Pro Tip: The best cutting board to use for fish is plastic. Do not use a wooden cutting board; wood absorbs odors and bacteria that is hard to sanitize. You don’t need anything fancy, this simple one is all you need.

If you are using store-bought fish, it is time to take it out of the packaging. Remove fish and pat dry. Experts say never wash your fish; this allows bacteria to spread to you and around your kitchen.

Finally, place it on your cutting board to get ready for portioning.

Cut and Package the Fish

When slicing frozen fish, there are a few things you want to consider.

First, determine the size of the fillets you want to have based on what you are using the fish for. These may include but are not limited to individual portions, family portions, or small squares for shish kabobs or stir-fries.

You will also want to consider what kind of fish you are cutting and what to use when portioning the fish. When cutting your fish, you will need to consider:

  • Which knife to use
  • The type of fish you are cutting
  • Packaging and storing your fish

Make a plan for what you will use your fillets for in the future, and take these steps below to cut your fish the best way.

Pick Your Slicer

Whichever knife or knives you pick, make sure they are long and sharp. Fish is not the easiest thing to cut through. You will want to use a serrated knife.

I highly recommend an electric carving knife if you have one, and this will make it possible to cut through a completely frozen piece of fish. However, the cuts with this may not be as clean as the carving knife is generally serrated. Otherwise, a crosscut or pruning saw will do the trick.

Another option is to use a cleaver. Of course, this takes a bit of practice, and make sure you are careful and don’t chop an appendage off.

However, if you only have straight knives, they can potentially work if they are sharp enough. Try any chef’s knife, a cleaver or butcher’s knife, as well as a santoku knife or nakiri knife.

Package and Store the Fish 

After your fish is cut, make sure to package it and get it back into the freezer for fresh keeping. 

If you have a vacuum sealer, seal the bag, insert the fish portion, suction out the air, and seal. Then mark it, date it, and put it into the freezer. 

If you are packaging with ziplock bags, first wrap the portion with wax paper or plastic wrap. Next, insert the wrapped portions into a Ziplock freezer bag, squeeze the air out and seal. Finally, mark and date it and put it into the freezer. 

You may freeze your fish in a freezer bag with just water, but it can affect the texture of the fish, and it could lose some of its nutrients. Therefore, this method is not recommended. 

Cutting a Salmon Slab

Salmon is a bit tricky and it’s difficult to cut completely frozen. Instead, you will want to partially thaw it before cutting.

When cutting salmon, start with removing the skin first, if you prefer to freeze without the skin. Then, using your straight edge knife, start at the tail end and cut parallel to the cutting board right above the skin the whole way through your slab. Keep the darker grey-colored meat right above the skin on the slab; this is where a good source of nutrients lies.

Then, cut your salmon into fillets. A typical portion size of salmon is 3-4 ounces. A good way to know how to portion them into correct fillets is to measure about 1 ¾ inch-2 inches for each cut. Take your straight-edge knife and cut perpendicularly through the slab. This allows for each portion to have fatty and lean segments.  

For family portions, cut around three times the measurement of the individual fillet (about 6 inches). If you are wanting to use the salmon in a smaller cube-like fashion, cut fillets, then cut those in half. After that, turn the halved fillet on its side and cut it into one-inch cubes. If you are cutting cubes, you will want to remove the skin beforehand. 

Then use the serrated knife to finish the job through the skin if you decide to keep that on. Continue these cuts the whole way down the salmon slab. You can use this template to cut most fish.

Cutting a Tuna Loin

The way you cut tuna is similar to the way you cut salmon. Really the only difference is the way you portion it into individual servings. When cutting tuna steaks, start at the end where the head was and cut into 4-ounce servings the same way you would with salmon, measuring 1 ¾ -2 inches with each cut. 

Make a couple of cuts starting from the head, and then switch over to the tail. On this end, cut the same way, except angle the knife inward toward the rest of the slab. This allows you to maximize the use of the whole fish.

Final Cut

Cutting frozen fish is totally doable if you have the right implement. At home, an electric carving knife is the way to go. Otherwise, go with a serrated knife or crosscut saw. I prefer to use the same type of blade that I prune trees with. Just make sure you don’t “double dip” or else you might end up with a slight evergreen taste in your fish. Yum.

I hope this article was helpful. Thanks for reading!

For more, check out How Long Can You Keep Fish on Ice? | Gutted vs. Ungutted.

Jim James

Hey, I'm Jim and the author of this website. I have always been interested in survival, fishing, camping, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!

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