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Preserving Fish: Beyond the Freezer

Fishing is a wonderful pastime and sport. It’s also a great way to feed your family. No matter where you live, it’s likely that you have lakes, rivers, or even the ocean nearby. If you are working towards making your family self-sufficient, fishing can play an important role. Fish is an excellent source of protein and vital nutrients. Many contain Omega 3 fatty acids, which can’t be touted enough for their myriad healthful benefits. In many cultures around the world, fish has always been a dietary staple. For you and your family, fish could be a major part of your diet, or simply one aspect of a varied and healthy lifestyle.

Of course, you may need to confront the issue of having more than you can eat. If you and the kids head out for a day of fishing and bring back more trout, salmon, walleye or bass than you can consume in a few days, do you let it go to waste? Do you throw some of the fish back? You could, or you might consider preserving some of your catch for future meals. Being self-sufficient means not only providing for your family’s immediate food needs, but also being prepared for future needs.

If you have the good fortune of having abundant fish nearby, take advantage of this food source. Catch your fish and eat some fresh. Preserve the rest for storage. Storing fish is simple, and there are several ways you can do it. Of course, freezing fish is one option, but what happens when you lose power? It happens to me pretty frequently, and losing precious food is never fun! Don’t rely on the electricity to keep your food. People have been preserving food and fish for thousands of years without it. You don’t need it either. You can dry, salt, pickle, or smoke your fish. One of the best ways to preserve your fish, potentially for years, is to can it. Canning fish is not much different from canning vegetables, but it does require the use of a pressure canner for safety.

Canning Fish

Even if you have experience canning fruits and high-acid vegetables such as tomatoes and pickles, you may not have realized that canning fish is also an option. I know I hadn’t thought about it until recently.

While canning acidic foods can be done in a simple water bath, canning fish requires a pressure canner. Without it, you cannot safely preserve your fish this way. Below is the basic method for canning fish. You would be wise, however, to do more detailed research before trying this.

  • Prepare your fish. Handle your freshly caught fish with care. Bleed and remove the viscera immediately. Remove the head, tail, and fins as well. You need not remove the skin. You can also leave the bones in for most fish. Get the cleaned fish on ice as quickly as possible to prevent bacterial growth. Keep chilled in a cooler or in a refrigerator until you are ready to begin canning.
  • Get your equipment ready. You will need a pressure canner that is in good working order. The best jars to use are straight-sided, one-pint glass jars. They should be cleaned in hot soapy water and thoroughly rinsed. Do not use any that have nicks or cracks around the rim. You will need two-piece lids. Lids should be new, but the rings can be reused as long as they are not rusted or bent. Use an acrylic cutting board for preparation to minimize bacterial contamination. Cutting board and knives should be cleaned well before using.
  • Cut your fish. For canning fish, you can either cut them into jar-length filets or chunks of any size you like. Pack the fish into the jar leaving one inch of space between the top of the fish and the sealing edge of the jar. For a nicer appearance, pack the fish filets so that the skin is facing out. No liquids or seasonings are required, but you may add some for flavoring or to keep the fish moist if desired. There are many recipes for flavoring your canned fish that you may consult.
  • Clean and seal. Clean up the edge of each jar with a damp paper towel. Dry completely with a dry paper towel. Be sure to remove all debris and any fish oil. Follow instructions that come with your cans and lids for tightening. They need to be sealed tight enough to avoid liquid escaping, but not so tight that air cannot be vented while processing.
  • Follow processing instructions. You are now ready to put your jars in the pressure canner. Follow instructions that come with your machine or a recipe that you are using for processing your fish. Follow the instructions to the letter. Also carefully follow directions on cooling and removing your jars from the canner.
  • Check your jars. Before storing your canned fish, check them over for proper seals. The lids should be curving downwards. The lid should not move when you press it with your finger. If anything looks amiss, open that jar and start again with a new one.
  • Label and store. Label your fish jars with the canning date for future reference and move them to a cool, dry, and dark place for storage. A basement or cellar is usually a good storage location for any of your canned foods.

Prepare now for surging food costs and empty grocery store shelves…

Safety Issues

Before preserving any food, please be sure that you are very well informed as to how to go about it safely. Canning any food can present safety concerns if it is not done correctly. When bacteria are allowed to grow in canned food, the results can be very detrimental. If you are new to canning, you may want to consider working with someone who has experience before you tackle it on your own.

Either way, keep these safety considerations in mind:

  • Never skimp on the recommended time or pressure or change the method when using a canning recipe. There is a reason that you need to keep the can in the water or in the pressure canner for as long as is recommended. It is very important to stick to the guidelines.
  • Adjust conditions for altitude. At this website, you can find guidelines for changing the settings on your pressure canner at different altitudes.
  • Make sure your pressure canner is working correctly. Especially if you have an older machine, check gaskets, gauges, safety plugs, and the vent port to make sure that everything is in working order.
  • When canning fish, use pint jars, not quart jars. Quart jars are too large to ensure that the fish is heated to the correct temperature throughout. Without sufficient heat, you could get extremely ill, if not worse.
  • Before eating any canned fish, check for spoilage. If the lid bulges upward, it’s no good. If you open the can and it smells bad or there are gas bubbles, it’s no good. Throw this fish out. It didn’t survive bacterial infestation.
  • Heat your fish before eating to be safe. If you open a can of fish and it passes the smell and bubbling test, you can be extra careful by heating it before you eat it. Using a meat thermometer, heat the fish in the oven to an internal temperature of 185 degrees. This should take about 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven. After removing the jar from the oven, let it sit for 30 minutes before eating.
  • Be educated. Learn about the dangers and proper techniques for canning in detail.

Flavoring Your Canned Fish

While fish can be canned without the addition of any other ingredients, you can also flavor it to make it tastier and moister. Some quick research on fish canning recipes should bring up several options.

Here are just a few things you might try:

  • Brining. If you have ever brined a turkey or chicken before roasting it, you know how the process makes it so tender and tasty. The same is true with fish. Soak your fish in salt water for an hour and then drain before canning. Brining will give your fish more flavor.
  • Smoking. Many types of fish take well to smoking, and it gives it a nice, rich flavor. Once it is smoked, the fish can be canned as usual.
  • Pickling. You will find myriad recipes for pickling vegetables, but you can also pickle fish. Ingredients like vinegar, sugar, and pickling spices will create a delicious end product.
  • Tomatoes. Because of their acidity, tomatoes can be added to create a pickling effect, much in the way vinegar does. Some people use tomato juice or even ketchup.

Preserving fish is a great way to make your catch last. Canning is serious business, however. Don’t take the process lightly. Be sure that you are following a safe canning procedures to the letter, and never try to can fish without a pressure canner.

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