An Outdoor View: On filling the freezer

In a perfect world, we’d be eating a sandwich made from the last of last year’s salmon while catching our first salmon of this year. In reality, we sometimes catch more salmon than we can eat. When this happens, the fish end up in the garbage or fed to animals. Here are some tips that might help you determine how many salmon you need.

Salmon that are properly cared for should still be in good shape after several months of storage. Much depends on how they are handled. Most importantly, fresh fish should be kept clean and cold. The sooner you get them frozen, canned or otherwise processed, the better they’ll taste when you eat them.

While your freezer is empty of fish, try to estimate how many salmon you’ll use between then and the next time you expect to bring some home. For example, let’s consider my situation, since my freezer is empty as I write this, earlier this week.

For starters, my wife and I pack our sockeye salmon in freezer bags that will usually hold half of a fillet. The packages will vary in size and weight, but that’s a good thing. We like leftover salmon. We usually cook for just the two of us, but occasionally have friends over for salmon.

I used to smoke salmon, but seldom do, anymore. If you smoke salmon, don’t forget to add the “smokers” to your calculations. Smoked salmon can be canned, or vacuum packed and frozen.

My wife and I don’t eat as much as we did when we were younger. Considering that the front half of a large sockeye fillet can weigh two pounds, we’ve found that one package — half a fillet — is about all the salmon we want in an average week. One large package will make three meals for us. It takes 13 sockeye to make a year’s worth of packages for the two of us. Add in the few times we feed guests salmon, and our estimate comes to 15.

Other factors can add to or subtract from the number of sockeyes I might want to bring home. Someone will sometimes ask me for a fish or two, so that can add a few for a given year. When I used to be able to bring home king salmon, I didn’t need as many sockeyes. I like to fish for silver salmon in the fall, so I like to leave a little space for a few of those. In years when I can’t catch enough reds, I can usually make up for it with silvers.

I used to give fish to Outside friends and relatives, but I’ve pretty much stopped doing that. It wasn’t appreciated enough to justify the work and expense. Worse, that fish often ended up in the bottom of a freezer, wasted. If you’re giving away fish, you might want to follow up and check on what’s happening to it. Also on this subject, giving away last year’s fish ensures that it won’t be appreciated.

From experience, I’ve found that the way fish is frozen and stored has much to do with its condition six months later. Putting fresh, raw fish on top of frozen fish in a freezer thaws the frozen fish. We have a large, upright freezer with cooling coils under the shelves that we use for freezing fish. We’ve found that handling the packages of vacuum-packed fish while they’re frozen can cause the bags to leak, so we don’t handle them any more than necessary.

By knowing how many fish you can use, and by taking proper care of those you keep, you’ll not only not waste it, but you’ll enjoy it more at the table.

For advice and free brochures on how to properly cook, care for and process fish and game, visit the Cooperative Extension Service office (43961 Kalifornski Beach Rd., Soldotna).

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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