Fresh fish is a tasty protein that has a relatively short shelf life. Any fish you are not planning on eating within a few days must be frozen. Properly freezing a fish does not mean tossing it into the freezer. Here's what you need to know to have top-quality fish for months:
- Air is your enemy. Any air that touches your fish will destroy it. It's that simple. So you must prevent air from contacting the fish by vacuum-sealing it, glazing it or wrapping it tightly. (This is in order of preference.)
- If you catch a lot of fish or buy lots of fresh fish from the market, buy a vacuum sealer. They're worth every penny and you'll use them frequently.
- If you choose not to vacuum seal, you can glaze the fish by dipping them in cold water and putting the dipped fish on a sheet pan in the freezer. Let that water freeze, then repeat the process several more times to get a 1/4 inch thick ice glaze on the fish. You can then put your glazed fish into a plastic bag and place in the freezer for storage.
- You can wrap your fish in plastic wrap, then put the wrapped fish into a plastic bag. This method is not as effective at preventing moisture loss and freezer burn like the other methods.
Why Freeze Fish
Remember that the weather in a freezer is just fine for many fish and helps to preserve the taste and texture. Many fish, like cod or haddock, are naturally cold-water fish. They spend their lives in water that is only a few degrees above freezing, so putting them in the freezer will not be as radical a change for the meat as it would be for other protein like a steak or a chicken. You will get less of a loss in flavor with many types of frozen fish than you would with frozen terrestrial meats.
Tips for Freezing Fish
Never freeze your fish for longer than 6 months. After that, you will notice a serious decline in quality. Fatty fish, such as salmon or trout, go downhill even faster. Don't freeze them longer than 3 months. Some fish should never be frozen without vacuum sealing or glazing. These are the ones with the most fat, like bluefish, herring, mackerel, and sardines. If you find yourself with a surfeit of bluefish, vacuum-seal them and know that you will be making fish cakes with them down the road. The texture of the fish will change so a dish like fish cakes will work best with frozen fatty fish.
When you thaw your frozen fish, do it gradually. Never put them in the microwave to thaw. Let the fish thaw in the fridge or in cold water. Thawing at room temperature is also a bad idea. You want them to remain cold and come to temperature slowly.