Freezing the spring salmon is quick and easy

The easiest and fastest way to preserve fish is to freeze it.

Fish should be iced down immediately to help prevent bacterial growth, spoilage -- even when the weather is cool. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant
Fish should be iced down immediately to help prevent bacterial growth, spoilage -- even when the weather is cool. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

The snow has melted. The ice has disappeared from the streams. The springtime anglers are getting their tackle ready for salmon and trout season. When catching spring salmon for preserving later, it is important to keep the fish alive as long as possible. Of all of the types of meats, fish is the most susceptible to spoilage, rancidity, and foodborne illness. The delicate flesh of the fish starts to deteriorate as soon as the fish leaves the water. The spoilage and slime-producing bacteria are present on the skin of the fish. Once the fish is caught and is out of the water these bacteria start reproducing at a rapid rate unless the fish is cared for properly.

As soon as the fish is caught, to delay the spoilage, it should be gutted and the body cavity rinsed thoroughly. Next the fish should be chilled and iced down.

There are four popular methods for preserving fish. They are freezing, canning, smoking, and pickling. The easiest way to preserve the fish is to freeze it.

To properly freeze fish start with high quality fish. Freezing will not improve the quality of the fish. To achieve a good quality frozen fish product there are three things that are important. They are: carefully handle the fish after it is caught; the material or method of freezing needs to be airtight to prevent the development of off flavors and that undesirable freezer burn; and the freezer temperature needs to be below 0 degrees Faherienheit.

There are two techniques for freezing fish. The first one is gutting and thoroughly cleaning the fish as soon as it is caught. Prepare the fish as it would be ready for eating. Large fish need to be cut into steaks or fillets. Small fish could be frozen whole. Wrap the fish in two layers of freezer bag materials. By putting two layers of freezer material between each fish fillet, separation and thawing will be easier. The fish needs to be stored in a freezer that is at 0 F or colder. When it is time to thaw, the fish should be thawed in the refrigerator.

The second way to freeze fish, particularly, small fish is to freeze them whole. Freezing fish whole in ice is particularly good for pan fish, sunfish, and relatively small portions of fish. Place the cleaned, gutted fish in a shallow pan or water/ air tight container, cover the fish with ice water. Put the fish in the freezer for 8-12 hours until frozen. Once frozen, the block of ice with the fish can be removed, wrapped, and placed in the freezer for storage.

For some guidelines on the keeping quality of fish at 0 F are as follows:

    • Northern pike, smelt, trout, lake herring, whitefish and carp: four to six months
    • Chinook salmon, Coho Salmon, and white bass: five to eight months
    • Bass, blue gill, crappie, sunfish, walleye, and yellow perch: eight to twelve months

Michigan State University Extension cautions when eating raw or undercooked species of fish from the Great Lakes, there is the possibility of contracting broad fish tapeworm infection. Fish that are susceptible to the broad fish tapeworm include yellow perch, northern pike, sand pike, and walleye pike. Proper cooking and freezing will destroy the infective worms.

When getting ready for the trout and salmon season, remember to plan on preserving that fantastic catch safely. For further information on freezing, canning, smoking or drying fish contact the Michigan State University Extension Service.

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