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I have for the longest time wanted to try my hand at canning fish, so when a friend asked me to help him thin out an overcrowded farm pond, I jumped at the chance. What we found was a pond chocked full of 5-7 inch bluegill. The owner had never stocked any predator fish like large mouth bass, so the bluegill population had exploded, and the average size had gotten quite small. Suffice it to say, we caught a lot of fish, most of them we filleted and frozen, but I kept some back to try canning. Here is the result of the attempt.
Some of the larger fish were filleted, so there were no bones in them. This is how I prepare bluegill for freezing. I had read that when canned, fish bones become soft and edible (like canned salmon), so the smaller ones I simply scaled, and gutted them and removed the heads.
The cleaned fish was placed in a brine solution consisting of 1 cup salt to 1 gallon of water, soaked in the refrigerator for one hour, then drained for ten to fifteen minutes.
Wash and sterilize canning jars (only pints or half pints for fish - no quarts), and rings.
Boil dome lids before applying them.
Pack fish tightly in jars, leaving about 1" of head space. DON'T add any water or brine back to the fish, as liquid will cook out of the fish providing it's own broth.
Probably the only mistake I made in this venture was that I didn't pack the fish into the jars tight enough. When the fish cook during canning, they tend to shrink, so what starts out looking like a relatively full jar will come out of the canner looking like 3/4 of a jar. Next time I'll pack 'em in tight.
I packed whole fish by themselves and fillets by themselves, but I could have just as easily have packed them together.
Place packed and closed jars of fish in your pressure canner, THEN bring the canner to a boil. Only close canner AFTER the water comes to a boil.
Follow instructions in your canners manual for venting and sealing the canner.
Process half pints and pints for an hour and 40 minutes (that's right 100 minutes!) at 10 PSI.
Allow pressure to drop off naturally when time is up. DO NOT relieve pressure any other way, or jars may not seal properly. Or all of the liquid may boil off, and the fish will be nearly dry in the canning jars.
SAFETY NOTE: Canning fish (or any meat) is different than cold pack canning of vegetables & fruit, in that you don't pour boiling water over the fish or meat in the canning jars. As a result, the packed jars will be very cold. NEVER put cold canning jars into a boiling canner!. The thermal shock can (and frequently does) cause the jars to crack. This is a good way to waste your hard work and money, as well as a good way to get cut badly.
Once pressure is off, open the canner, remove the canning jars, and set them out to seal. You will know when they seal by the satisfying little "plink" noise produced when the dome lid is drawn down.
Home canned fish can be used in the same ways you would use canned fish from the store. We made bluegill salad (like you would make tuna salad), and pan fried bluegill patties (like salmon patties). Both were very good, and yes the bones become soft and edible. The flavor is definitely different than salmon or tuna, but it is definitely not a wild or unpleasant flavor.
There is also a difference between the flavor of the whole fish (with skin and bones), and just the fillets. Both are good to eat, the flavors of the two are simply different. MY advice would be to try it both ways, and see which you like better.
Canned fish in most cases, is not as tasty as fresh or frozen, but it is another foolproof way to preserve your catch, AND it's still pretty darn good!. If you live in an area where your electricity isn't always reliable, it's a better option than freezing.
Some of my friends in Louisiana lost freezers full of fish, game and meat when Hurricane Katrina passed through a few years ago. As they learned, you don't have to be in the direct path of the storm to suffer damages and losses. I'm sure many of them would have welcomed some canned fish in the days and weeks following the storm.
You don't have to live in a hurricane prone area to suffer loss of electricity for days on end. If you have access to a supply of fresh fish, try your hand at canning some of it for storage and long term use.