Does Catfish Have Bones? (Cooking & Eating Guide)

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Cover Image of Does Catfish Have Bones

Are you one of those seafood enthusiasts who would rather buy filleted fish than to buy a whole one just to avoid looking at the dead fish’s eyes giving you death glares?

Well, try looking at the funny-looking catfish, and it will intrigue you rather than scare you. With peculiar barbels or feelers around the mouth that look more like whiskers, its face from the front side looks a bit like a cat, hence the name.

Another reason for its peculiar name is that it does not have scales on its body. Some have a naked smooth body; a few may also have bony plates which provide protection.

But don’t be fooled by its cuteness; they do have spines containing venom, which is very painful if your skin gets punctured while handling live catfish. Want to know more? Read the interesting facts below.


Does Catfish Have Bones?


There are more than a thousand varieties of catfish which have been identified by aquatic life experts. Some catfish are small to normal size and are raised in fish farms, while other big ones are found in lakes and marine environments.

Each one of these different types of catfish have a very similar bone structure. All of them have a rigid endoskeleton consisting of one large spinal column in the middle under the dorsal fin, like a backbone.

image of bones of a catfish
Image Credits: digimorph

There are smaller bones branching out of this in an orderly fashion, which are spread out much like ribs in mammals. The function of this endoskeleton is to give the body of the fish its present shape and the strength to bear pressure underwater.

The skull of the catfish is made up of overlapping bones in the head region. The catfish have what is called dentary bones in their jaws instead of individual teeth, which are hard and abrasive.

After the catfish is filleted, gutted, and headed, its frame remains which consists of the backbone and rib bones. These frames are used to make dietary supplements for humans because of the high quality of calcium found in them.

The head is also very large and contains a great deal of bone. Animal feed is also made from processing the catfish bones.


Which Fish Has No Bones To Eat?


Almost all fish have some sort of bones which are basically cartilaginous more than bony. This is because Fish are vertebrates, meaning they have a backbone or a spine.

However, some fish like Tuna and halibut have big meaty portions with little or no bones, which are easily carved into stakes. So you might think that they do not have any bones in them.

image of tuna meat
Tuna

Some other fish like mahi-mahi, white fish, and perch have a big bone in the center with few side bones that are easily removed, and most of the flesh is practically boneless.

The tastiest and most popular fish, which are mostly available in the boneless form, is Tuna, Mackerel, and Arctic Salmon. Tuna is popular both in canned and fresh forms.

The only fish that comes to mind which actually contains no bones is the slime eel. This hagfish belongs to the invertebrate class of aquatic animals. This practically means it has no backbone running down its middle from its skull to its tail.

Every other fish not only has a spine but also has additional bony fin rays in their fins: caudal as well as pectoral. These fin bones are not connected to the main spine but are attached to the muscles in adjoining vicinity.


Are Catfish Bones Dangerous? What Happens If You Eat A Catfish Bone?


Catfish have a normal endoskeletal system consisting of a big backbone or the spine and some smaller bones attached to the spine, much like the ribs in humans.

But fishbones are not hard bones like other mammals on land; rather, they are cartilaginous. Catfish also have these cartilaginous bones, which are a bit difficult to remove in raw fish.

But during the process of cooking, they become tender. In fact, catfish bones are a little brittle and tender to begin with, and get further weakened over a heated pan when cooked encased in the flesh.

The bones are perfectly edible but could be a bit more challenging than eating just the fleshy part. Normally you would not face any problem swallowing these small weak bones.

Once these get inside your digestive system without sticking in your throat, your digestive juices can break them easily and dispose off them the usual way.

Sometimes, however, if you are not paying attention while eating, the bones can pinch your throat a bit, but they are so thin and weak that you don’t feel any pain or even discomfort.

However, some wide varieties of catfish can have a stronger bone structure which still retains enough strength to puncture your esophagus if stuck while swallowing. In these rare instances, the harm could cause trouble swallowing, so be careful while eating bigger catfish.


Can I Leave The Skin On The Catfish?


Catfish are notorious for having one of the most difficult skin to remove when it is raw. So you are right to wonder if you should go through the hassle of cooking with skin on does not take anything away from the taste and flavor.

image of a cooked catfish

Whether you skin it or you don’t, be mindful of a few facts. Firstly, the difficulty in removing the skin in raw fish; the skin can easily comes off the meaty part once it is properly cooked.

But there is a flip side; the skin curls during cooking because it loses moisture. You can overcome this problem by scoring the raw fish. These fissures can let moisture out without deshaping the whole fish.

There is a common advantage of cooking with skin on, which is the moisture that the meaty part retains while cooking, which leaves a juicy moist flesh for you to enjoy.

Be mindful, however, to avoid such recipes which require you to dip the fish in some batter that would make the skin of the fish stick to the pan, which spoils the taste.


Step By Step – How To Remove Catfish Bones?


Catfish features very regularly on the menus of many seafood consumers. The reason for its popularity is its yummy flavor and the fact that it is easily cooked.

But the real test is the process of deboning before filleting it. Following are the step by step guidelines to debone the catfish for first-timers:

  • Step One: If you have bought a live catfish, the first step is to kill it. An easier and less painful way for the fish is to just decimate the head, which would paralyze and then kill it.
  • Step Two: For cutting the head, you have to find the head case, then see the base skin and cut through it.
  • Step Three: Make a diagonal cut from the start of the dorsal fin to the area before the pelvic fin. The purpose of diagonal cutting is to avoid puncturing the internal organs. If you put enough pressure, you can easily cut through the rib bones.
  • Step Four: While making a deeper cut, you can feel the backbone through your knife. Now turn the knife towards the tail and keep cutting along the spine till you reach the rear side of the fish. Leave an inch of tail behind.
  • Step Five: Flip the catfish and cut from the edge of the tail where it connects the skin to the fat. This way, you are basically skinning the fish. Flip the fish and do it again, now from the opposite side. If the skin is tough, as is the case with bigger catfish, use pliers instead of a knife to peel it off; cut the catfish fins from the back and stomach.
  • Step Six: Some rib bones will remain inside the meat, so you need to carve these out.
  • Step Seven: Some meat remains in the head area, you can remove this too if you don’t want to waste any meat.
  • Step Eight: Wash the fillet thus obtained with cold water to remove blood and slime.

Do Catfish Fillets Have Bones In Them?


Catfish is a very popular choice for dinner amongst the seafood connoisseurs because of its lean meat and a mild taste. However, most people find fishbones repulsive and unpalatable, so they prefer a fish fillet over the whole variety.

image of some Catfish Fillets

Still, the first-time diners of this dish want to know if their cooked catfish still retains some bones even after undergoing the filleting process.

To ease their discomfort, we are glad to tell them that all bones of the catfish, big or small, are carefully removed when it is filleted.

When you buy a whole raw catfish, there is one central spine bone and several bones extending from it to the fins. These are easier to remove.

The main meaty part has many smaller bones, which are tactfully removed when you are carving the fillet so that the end product, which is ready for cooking, is, for all intent and purposes, boneless.


Is Catfish Good Or Bad For You?


Just like every other food item, catfish has many health benefits but some side effects as well. So you have to view the whole picture before jumping to conclusions.

First of all, we will list the health benefits that you can get when you eat catfish:

  • It is good for your heart as it lowers cholesterol levels in the body.
  • It is good for your brain and nervous system because of its low mercury level and high protein content
  • It is good for weight watchers as protein level is high while calorie count is low, and it gives a full stomach feeling
  • Its high omega 3 level protects Your Eyes and improves the functioning of the lungs
  • Omega 3 content also helps fight depression and prevents Dementia.

Now we see the major side effect of consuming catfish, which is the presence of high levels of omega 6, which harms the circulatory system of the body, causing strokes and bowel diseases. In fact, the only way to maximize benefits and minimize side effects is to consume it in moderate amounts.


Final Verdict:

Catfish are peculiar-looking (mostly) freshwater fish that have very distinct barbells near their mouth and are found in water bodies all around the world.

Since these contain very high-quality protein, are low in mercury, have good fats like omega 3, and are a good source of calcium, they are very, very sought after by chefs (both amateurs and professionals) around the world.

Catfish have an endoskeleton which proves that they are vertebrates. The backbone and rib bones serve an important function in giving catfish its form and structure.

Catfish bones are not difficult to remove and do not cause any harm even if you accidentally swallow them. It has an edible skin, so it is ok if you cook it with skin on.

You can also learn to debone the catfish through a simple step by step method which is easy to follow.

To conclude, we can say that not only the catfish fillet provides a tasty dish for your dinner, but even its leftover bones can be processed to make animal feed and dietary supplements.


Frequently Asked Questions

#1 – Is catfish skin edible?

If you are eating catfish raised in a fish farm, where the water is clean, then it is safe to eat the catfish with its skin on.

However, if you have caught the catfish from the wild or open waters, then the EPA guidelines advise you to only eat the fillet after removing the skin.

This is because the skin absorbs toxins from the water. This results in a higher level of mercury in open water fish, which is harmful

#2 – Can you eat fried fish bones?

Fish bones are edible and are a rich source of calcium and iron. Fried fish bones are a common delicacy in Japan and are served in all the high end restaurants as a pre-dinner snack.

This snack comes in the category of potato chips and fried pig tails. People who are lactose intolerant are advised by doctors to consume fish bones as an alternate calcium source.

#3 – Is catfish better than tilapia?

Catfish and tilapia are ideal choices if you are looking for leaner and healthier seafood. Both are high in proteins but low in unhealthy fats.

However, catfish is packed with more omega 3, the healthier fat. It has other advantages over tilapia, as it is safer for pregnant and breastfeeding moms.

#4 – What are the side effects of eating catfish?

Catfish contain a considerable amount of Omega 6. This fatty acid, if consumed more, can elevate the risk of blood clots, thus causing strokes. Omega 6 is known to trigger arthritis and bowel diseases.

Consuming catfish in higher quantities can increase your cholesterol level and may increase the level of mercury in your body, impacting your immune system.

#5 – Is catfish deadly to humans?

More than a thousand types of catfish have been declared venomous by different studies on aquatic life. The fish actually uses venom to defend itself from predators. The catfish sting is not life-threatening, but it is a very painful experience.

Some venomous species of catfish can cause more damage as their poison can cause muscle spasms and respiratory distress, which can last several months.

#6 – Do catfish nuggets have bones?

Catfish nuggets have no bones in them, just like the fillets, only cut smaller. Mostly, these are shavings or cutaways from fillets which are pure meat, hence get wasted if thrown away.

That is why you can buy them for a very low price, yet enjoy the full health benefits with delicious taste as a bonus.

#7 – Do catfish have backbones?

Catfish are vertebrates. This means that they do have a backbone or a spine, but it is more cartilage than bone. Their spine has a crest-like elevation that smoothly descends in the pelvic region into a groove.

This shape helps the catfish to swim better. The spine or backbone is connected to the ribs in the pectoral region.

#8 – Why are catfish banned?

The hybrid variety of catfish is banned in countries like India and Nepal. They are carnivores and have been known to completely change the local ecosystem making it hostile to the native species of fish.

Thus, these invasive fish pose a threat to the local aquatic life by adulterating the water bodies when breeders release them in water channels.

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