One of the benefits of sharing things online is that we get to see how things are done in other places. Oftentimes, they’re easier. Videos on opening coconuts, cutting mangoes, and slicing up pineapples come to mind.

For all you fresh fish connoisseurs out there, we’re sharing a technique on gutting your catch. No filleting knife, no slicing open the fish’s belly with surgical precision to remove the organs. The only tool you need here is a pair of chopsticks. That’s right; they’re not just for dining.

Called tsubo-nuki in Japanese, this method uses chopsticks to remove the guts through the mouth, and is demonstrated in this video by Morigami. The head and rest of the fish’s outer body is left intact, helping it to stay in one piece (and shape) as it cooks.

Vegans and vegetarians be warned: the video is graphic in its treatment of dead fish. The probing, twisting, and subsequent pulling while the fish is eyeing you might make you squeamish. For everyone else, sit back and prepare to go “Wooow, I wanna try that!” All that’s used for this clever method are a scaler, knife, a pair of wooden chopsticks, and good background music.

  1. Scale It

    Remove fish scales with a knife or scaler.

  2. Open It

    fish chopsticksMorigami

    Open the fish’s mouth, and insert one chopstick on one side of the fish’s jaw.

  3. Insert Another One

    Insert another chopstick on the opposite side.

  4. Squeeze and Twist

    Squeeze the sticks together and twist them about 3 or 4 times. Pull the sticks out, extracting the entrails and gills.

  5. Rinse

    Rinse the fish out.


Watch the video to learn exactly how a clean extraction is done on the first go, and where to place the chopsticks. Experts recommend using tsubo-nuki for fresh, smaller fish only, as this method can be impossible otherwise. In the book Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, it’s noted that tsubo-nuki should be used on fish no bigger than a horse mackerel.

If you buy fresh fish instead of catching it yourself, look for ones with clear eyes, not cloudy. It’s how you can gauge the age of the fish. Also check the gills to make sure they’re red and the tails are moist. One of the most important things to do when buying fresh fish is to smell it. Guess why? It shouldn’t smell fishy!

Fishy odors indicate decay, especially on the inside of the fish. Should you try tsubo-nuki on a rotten fish, you could be in for a nasty surprise that offends your eyes and nose. No one wants to pluck a long, putrid stream of guts out of anything. You want to opt for fish that have an ocean-like or clean water smell. Shiny skin with the scales in good shape are another sign of a healthy fish.

If you’ve ever gutted and cleaned fish, does this technique seem less messy? Or do you think filleting and scraping the insides out is faster? Would you go the tsubo-nuki route on your next batch of fresh fish? Tell us in the comments!