An Outdoor View: On freezing fish

In the 40-some years I’ve been freezing fish, I’ve learned a lot of things, and some were learned the hard way. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.

Before you start fishing, it’s best to figure out how many salmon you need to catch. In my book, wasting fish is among the Seven Deadly Sins.

If you take proper care of salmon, it will be in good shape after several months of storage in your freezer. Much depends on you. Fish start to decompose the instant they die, but by keeping them clean and cold, you can slow the process. The sooner you freeze, can or otherwise process your fish, the better it will taste when you eat it.

— Fish should be bled and gutted as soon as possible.

— Pack whole or gutted fish in ice. Crushed or flaked is best, but “cocktail” size cubes will do. Transport fillets in plastic bags surrounded by ice. Keep fish off the bottom of coolers, out of the meltwater. Do everything you can to keep your freshly killed fish cold.

— For freezing, the Alaska Cooperative Extension Service recommends vacuum packaging over all other methods. Home vacuum-packaging systems are available and affordable. Frozen fish exposed to the oxygen in air become dehydrated and tough (“freezer burned”). Exposure to air causes rancidity in salmon and other fatty fish.

— Whole fish and thick chunks of fish can take days to completely freeze in a home freezer. Ideally, fish is “flash-frozen.” According to Ed’s Kasilof Seafoods’ Web site (kasilofseafoods.com), the best temperature for flash freezing is -40 F with a -10 F core temperature in less than 5 hours. Home freezers can’t do this, but the better commercial processors can. Some local processors offer flash freezing, vacuum packaging and other services.

— Piling unfrozen fish on top of frozen food thaws and degrades the frozen food. The best way to freeze fish at home is with two freezers: one for freezing and one for storing. The “freezing” freezer should have large shelves.

— Don’t overload your freezer. Trying to freeze too much at one time slows the process. Spread out the packages on racks, so air can circulate between them.

— Keep your storage freezer at 0 F or colder. Check the temperature with a thermometer to ensure that it’s no higher than 0 F. Keep the interior surfaces frost free.

— Leave frozen fish sealed in its vacuum package or in a plastic bag, and thaw it under cold, running water. Never thaw seafood at room temperature.

Pick up a free copy of “Home Freezing of Fish” at the Alaska Cooperative Extension office (34824 Kalifornsky Beach Road). Or visit their Web site (www.uaf.edu/coop-ext/), click on “Publications,” and follow the links.

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

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