Freezing Fish

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One day's catch of Bluegill

Freezing fish and seafood can be done in several different ways.

However, there are two methods that I recommend that keeps fish fresh for a longer period of time.

If you are an avid fisherman who enjoys eating what you catch, you already know that you sometimes catch more than you can eat at one sitting.

The question is - how to preserve the surplus so that you can enjoy it later.

Our favorite fish to catch AND eat are bluegill (also called brim or perch in other parts of the US). They're easy to catch, always hungry, fight hard for their size, and taste great.

Fresh caught bluegill.

During certain parts of the year Crappie and White Bass are also easy to catch in enough numbers that you have enough to eat some fresh and also have some to freeze for enjoying later. Catching your own fish costs only the price of a fishing license, bait, and whatever time you're willing to invest.

Fish and seafood can also be bought in bulk and frozen for later consumption. When we visit friends and family along the Gulf Coast, we always try to buy an ice chest full of freshly caught shrimp on our last day, so we can take it home, clean it and freeze it so that we can have it to eat for months.

Fresh Gulf of Mexico Shrimp - YUM!

If you can buy fresh locally caught seafood in bulk, it will be far less expensive than buying it at the local grocery hundreds of miles away from it's source.

Whether you're catching it yourself or buying in bulk, the important thing is to preserve it properly so that it retains flavor and freshness for long periods of time.

It's no a bargain if you have to throw half of it away because the flavor has gone off or has freezer burn because you didn't use the proper method to freeze it.

In addition to freezing fish, it's also possible to pressure can fish.  It will last on the shelf for a couple of years or more, requires no freezing once it's canned, plus - it's fully cooked.  It's possible to simply open the can and dig in with a fork.  You find find that the flavor and texture of canned fish is quite different than frozen fresh fish.  Not bad tasting - just entirely different.

Freezing Fish in Water

Weighing Fish for Freezing

I weigh out the correct serving amount - which for my family seems to be about a pound of fillets - and place them in a zipper seal bag. Then, put enough water in the bag to just cover the fish. Don't over do it, as it will just take longer to thaw out later when you want to eat some of your catch. Close the zipper to within an inch, and squeeze out any remaining air, then finish the seal. Lay the bags out flat in your freezer so that they will be easier to stack up neatly after they are frozen. We have had very good results with shrimp using this method as well.

A final note: if you live where your tap water is what we call "city water" - that is, water that has been processed at a treatment facility before coming to your home - it's best to use either bottled water or water that has been filtered to remove the treatment chemicals, like chlorine, as these can impart an unpleasant flavor to your fish when you eat it later.

The Quick Freezing &
Vacuum Packing Method

Freezing fish fillets using this method is a two step process. After the fish has been cleaned and prepared, place it one layer thick on a plastic wrap covered cookie sheet and quick freeze it overnight.

The next day remove the fillets and weigh out serving size portions. Place these portions in individual packages and vacuum package them.

Trying to vacuum package fish that isn't pre-frozen can normally be difficult because of the moisture in and on the fillets. As the vacuum is drawn down, the moisture can get pulled into the sealing portion of the bag and cause the seal to fail.

That being said, it's not impossible to. I have seen my mother dry fresh fillets with paper towels before vacuum sealing them with great success.

The only drawback that I've found with the vacuum packaging method is this: If you are prone to moving things around in your freezer, looking for a certain package, you can cause holes or tears in freezer bags. if you accidentally punch a hole in a vacuum bag, you have lost your vacuum, and air will get inside the bag. This can cause freezer burn.

Fish and seafood frozen in water can take this kind of rough handling fine, because the ice covering the fish protects it from the air and freezer burn. If you don't move packages around in your freezer, then it's not a problem you should be concerned about.

Label Every Package!!!

Label each package with what's in it, how much, and when it was frozen.

This from personal experience - when freezing fish (or anything else for that matter) label every package with what's in it and when it was frozen. Most fish looks about the same after it is frozen, so you want to be able to distinguish different kinds by labeling. To assure freshness, always use the FIFO (first in - first out) system to make sure that you are using the oldest package first. If you don't label each package, you can't do either of these things.

It's also a good idea to note how much weight is in the package. There's often always a "short" package at the end, and you want to be able to identify it. If you freeze in water, it's harder to tell by just looking.

Another final small piece of advice - if you are using a felt tipped permanent marker, which I recommend, label the bags before you put anything in them. If the bags get wet, either due to handling or condensation caused by frozen stuff, most markers fail to write properly if at all.

Fresh fish and seafood are some of the healthiest meats that you can eat. Fish is high omega fatty acids, and are low fat and cholesterol. Not only is it great tasting, but it's really good for you.

If you can either catch your own or buy fresh fish and seafood in bulk, freezing fish helps you keep an inexpensive main dish in supply and on had for your family to enjoy year round.

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Related Links:

Canning Fish

Catching Fish

Bulk Meat & Fish

Freezing Meats

Freezing Basics

Overfishing Bluegill???

Some people have expressed concern to me that harvesting too many bluegill from a body of water can cause the population to crash, or that they could even be fished out of a pond or lake.

Most man-made, stocked lakes and ponds have an overabundance of bluegill, and not enough predator fish to keep the population in check. 

Of course, this isn't the case in every body of water, but it certainly is in a large portion of them where I live.  Where this happens, the fish tend to have stunted growth.

A nice haul of smaller sized, but perfectly edible bluegill.

My experience has been that taking a large number of bluegill from a lake will only benefit the overall population. 

Lakes that I've fished hard, generally start out with relatively small fish on average 5" to 7" fish. It's not unusual to see skin parasites and disease on these fish as well.

After a few years of harvesting pressure the average size of fish increases to 8" to 10" fish with a few 11" to 12" monsters mixed in.    The fish harvested also tend to be much healthier & display little disease. 

Surprisingly, I have found that you can take a similar amount of bluegill "poundage" from the same lake year after year, it's just that the quality of fish improve over time.