Cat in the vat

Dear Ace: What are the other ways to skin a cat?—Mick E. Maus
Mick: Well, assuming you already know the most common way (grab hold and pull, pull, pull! …Oh, how Ace kids), Ace will take a literal approach and he’ll also give a few of his own suggestions.

First, Ace needs to be sure you understand something: This age-old idiom actually refers to catfish, not felines. As Ace understands it, catfish have a very tough skin (like an eel), which makes it somewhat inedible. So, one must “skin the cat” before enjoying it for dinner.

Now, Ace must also tell you that while he is enormously committed to answering his readers’ questions, at no point in the creation of this week’s column did he actually try to skin a cat, as his intense allergy to catfish prevents him from dabbling in any undersea culinary delights.

Here’s how you can skin a cat: Boil the fish in water, take it out of the water and dip it in a vat of wax, take it out of the wax and dip it in cold water to harden the wax. The wax is then peeled off, taking the hair and the skin with it.

Or, if you prefer a more hands-on method, Chris Arseneault of Seafood @ West Main says to hold the catfish by the head (using its spikes as leverage) and use a pair of pliers to pull the skin off.

Those ways are fine, but they aren’t Ace originals. Here are some of his own ideas: Cut off the head of the catfish, then squeeeeze until its viscera appears, like a tube of toothpaste. Or, focus more on the end result of this process and use a vacuum to suck the fish out of its skin. If you’re really into blood and guts, a vegetable peeler or cheese grater might be effective tools. Let Ace reiterate that he has never tried any of these methods, so it’s important to always use caution when skinning your cat.

Lastly, if it’s a more impressive and dignified approach you’re looking for, try that old tablecloth trick: one hand, one swift flourish of the wrist and voila! Skinned cat!

You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 18 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to

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