It can be confusing when you sit down to a meal and find a vast range of cutlery lined up beside your plate. The fish knife and fork may seem particularly unnecessary when a standard knife and fork are available; however, they serve a purpose and may even make it easier to eat your fish course.

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The use of fish knives and forks dates back to the 19th century. One way in which the rising middle class liked to display its newfound wealth was with the hosting of elaborate meals. As the concept of separate courses became popular in the 1850s, so did the idea of different cutlery for every course. There could be more than 22 items of cutlery for each guest at a banquet, with meals lasting up to eight hours.

Sets of fish cutlery became popular gifts. Cutlers – the manufacturers of cutlery – would engrave elaborate designs on the blades of fish knives. Handles of cutlery were also often embellished with extra designs and materials to make them aesthetically pleasing. Marine life was a common decoration.

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When laying a table, fish cutlery follows the principle of starting from the outside and working inwards. If the fish course is served before the main course, the cutlery goes on the outside; if served after, it goes on the inside.

As fish knives are considered less relevant in the modern world, where a standard dinner knife may suffice, they are unlikely to be part of a standard cutlery set. If you wish to add them to your restaurant cutlery, specialists such as may be able to assist.

Fish knife

The sharp, curved edge of a fish knife is designed to slide under the fish’s skin. Small bones can be removed using the sharp point, although this is not necessary if your fish has already been filleted. The broad blade then helps to both transfer the fish to the fork and spread or scrape up any sauce.

Fish fork

On average, a fish fork is smaller than a standard table fork and tends to be 7¼ to 7¾ inches long. Like the fish knife, it often has an incurved shape. This may not be for practical reasons but simply to help differentiation when placed next to a range of different forks.