One of my favorite ways to prepare a fish is filleted and grilled or sautéed with the skin on. Many fish have outstanding crispy skin that dramatically improves the flavor and texture of the meal. Branzino, for example are renowned for their flavorful skin that blisters to a crispy counterpoint to its delicious meat. In order to make that skin edible, you will need to remove the scales. I find myself scaling a lot of fish and to be honest, I hate it. The scales can fly everywhere, you can get stabbed with the dorsal spines, it takes forever, and they clog up the sink if you are not careful. The ones with huge scales like a redfish or a parrotfish are particularly annoying and difficult. I’ve tried the back of a knife, which I can assure you is the worst possible way to scale a fish. It is tempting because you already have a knife in your kitchen, while you probably don’t have a fish scaler. I’ve tried 3 or 4 different types of commercially available fish scalers with moderate success. I’ve tried blasting them with high pressure water. OK, that one is worse than the back of a knife. Everything I tried in the past was frustrating in one way or another.
Then one day, on a vacation to St. Kitts, I saw a local fisherman using a tool that was different than all the others. It was beautiful in its simplicity and incredibly effective. This simple tool was just a stick, with 3 bottlecaps nailed to it. The crimped edges of the metal are perfect for gripping scales while skating across the surface of the skin. It is sharp enough to hook the scales, but gentle enough to avoid tearing anything. It doesn’t beat up the fish, and the ergonomics are fantastic. I’ve never found a device this efficient and it works on any size of scales. It is easy to get into every corner and under every fin, and the cup on the last bottlecap is perfect for getting the ends of the fish. The tool works quickly and is totally foolproof. I came home and made one immediately. I used a section of a dowel and screwed the caps to it with exterior screws to avoid rust. Probably overkill, since the bottlecaps will certainly decay faster than the screws, but it can’t hurt. You don’t have to do any of that. You can make one of these at home, for free. All you have to do is drink 3 beers. Then cut a stick and nail the caps onto it. Actually, take the caps off the beers, do your cutting and nailing first, and then drink as many beers as you want.