How to Freeze Fish Properly

My favorite part of fishing has always been the time after. I’d help my parents grill or bake our catch as we’d bond over a delicious dinner. Luckily, we lived close to our fishing spot, but we always preserved the freshness of the catches by placing them on ice. Once we were home, my dad would descale and gut any extra catches before placing storing them in the garage freezer.

If it’s not being consumed immediately, fish should be frozen at the first possible chance. Whether it will spoil or get bruised, fresh-caught fish needs to be prevented from deteriorating to ensure its good quality and delicious taste in the future. Follow these recommendations to protect your catch and bond over an amazing dinner just like I used to.

Preparation

Per usual, fish preservation begins with removing the catch’s scales using the dull edge of a knife or spoon. Then, gut the fish’s insides by cutting along the entirety of the belly, from the head to the anal fin. To remove the head, chop just above the collarbone. Lastly, remove the dorsal and large back fins by creating incisions on both sides of the skin and pulling the fin out.

Any attempt to remove the bones at the base of the fins with shears or a knife will result in small boney remains and torn flesh. Therefore, this step can be done when you’re ready to cook the fish and have the time to be diligent about bone removal.

Once you’ve completed the preliminary cleaning, rinse your fish thoroughly in cold running water. Large fish, like salmon, trout and bass, can be sliced into smaller pieces for easier storage and cooking. For steaks, cut perpendicular to the spine, creating thick cutlets that are three-quarters of an inch.

For fillets, cut parallel to the fish’s spine from the fish’s head to tail, not separating the two portions of fish. Then, slice down to the spine at the collarbone.

Now, flatten the knife and cut parallel along the spine to the tail. You should now have two incisions that are parallel to the spine and extend from head to tail. Lift the meat in one piece, leaving it attached at the tail. Separate the fillet from the rest of the fish by cutting away the tail.

Pretreating

According to the amount of fat in a fish’s flesh, it can be categorized as fat or lean. For fat fish, you will need a pretreating bath made with a ratio of:

  • Two tablespoons of crystalline ascorbic acid
  • One quart of cold water

Fat fish, like trout, salmon and mackerel, should be treated to a 20-second bath. The water will control the putridity and flavor alterations the mixture may have on the fish. Fat fish can be stored for three months for maximum quality and should not be kept longer than nine months.

Lean fish, like cod, snapper and grouper, also should be treated with brine. Make a mixture of a one-fourth cup of salt for every quart of cold water. This will reduce the drip loss when thawing and keep the meat firm. Fish can stay frozen for six months with similar quality and taste, but should not be kept longer than 12 months.

Packaging

Incorrectly frozen fish develops tough textures, bad tastes and a dry interior. You can use any of the following methods to freeze your fish.

  • Water: This method surrounds a wrapped fish (shallow metal, plastic or foil) with ice. Place your wrapped meat in a container, fill the container with water, then freeze it. Containers should not be excessively large as it can draw out nutrients. Though freezing fish in an ice block will reduce the quality of the meat, it is a form of quick and easy storage. You can prevent evaporation by wrapping the container in freezer paper, labeling the type of fish and keeping the meat frozen in cold temperatures until it is ready to be consumed.
  • Lemon-Gelatin Glaze: This method coats the meat in a thin layer of gelatinous preserves that will keep the fish fresh, juicy and soft. Prepare the glaze by mixing a one-fourth cup of lemon juice and one and three-fourths cups of water. Dissolve a packet of unflavored gelatin in half of the mixture. Boil the remaining liquid and stir in the dissolved gelatin mixture. After cooling the mixture to room temperature, dip the cold fish in the lemon-gelatin glaze. Drain any excess glaze, wrap the meat in moisture-resistant packaging and freeze.
  • Ice Glaze: This method uses the properties of water to build a shield for the meat against the outside elements. By freezing the unwrapped fish, it will develop less than an inch of ice across the meat’s surface. To do this, repeatedly dip the unwrapped frozen fish in near-freezing water then return the meat to the freezer. Follow this trend until a uniform layer of ice develops. The fish will become increasingly stiff, so be careful in this process. Finally, wrap the glazed meat and store it in freezing temperatures.

Defrosting

Though meat is always best when made fresh, there are several steps to maximize the flavor and tenderness of the fish. Frozen meats are best when thawed through refrigeration, kept in the original wrapping paper and left on the lowest shelf.

If it needs to be thawed faster, place the meat in waterproof wrapping before submerging the package in cold water. It’s important to never thaw fish at room temperature as bacteria can grow and contaminate the meat.

Fish can be cooked in a frozen state, though you must account for the necessary additional cooking time. Small products can require as much as twice the cooking time, large pieces may need 50 percent longer than a thawed fish. If you planned to bread or fry fish, the meat should be partially thawed before the cooking process.