Pickling is not just about cucumbers and green tomatoes. Pickling, in fact, is a great way to preserve and enjoy your daily catch of fish.
Making your own pickled fish is both easy and can be accomplished with a variety of fish species. Some of the most popular fish for pickling include pike, salmon, trout and sucker.
There are many benefits to pickling fish. One is the fact that the vinegar in the pickling brine actually works to dissolve and soften any bones in the fish. I’ll usually try to pull out the Y-bones in a pike or the pin bones in a salmon, but it’s harder to do with a small trout and almost impossible given the number of small bones in a sucker. That’s where the vinegar really helps to soften and dissolve the bones, much like you find in canned sardines or anchovies.
Pickled fish is very healthy, for a number of reasons:
- The softened and partially dissolved bones are an excellent source of calcium.
- If you choose to use apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar, then you reap all of the health benefits associated with it.
- Many of the herbs and spices used in various brine recipes have proven benefits — turmeric, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and both dill and fennel fronds.
- If you’re diabetic or subject to edema, then you can reduce the amounts of sugar or salt in a brining recipe to suit your taste.
Unlike traditional canning methods that call for the jars to be immersed in a hot water bath for a period of time, fish pickling is a cold-pickling process. It often requires a cold soak in the refrigerator for a day or two in a pre-soak brine before you make the final, flavored brine for the jars.
You’ll also need to sanitize the jars in boiling water before filling them with the fish chunks and other ingredients. All pickled fish must be refrigerated or kept cool in some way at 36-40 degrees Fahrenheit. The safest shelf life is two weeks or less.
Some recipes recommend that fish like pike be frozen for 48 hours prior to pickling to kill any potential parasites in the fish.
We’re going to cover several recipes with salmon, trout, sucker and pike. Here’s some of the basic equipment you’ll need:
- Glass canning jars and lids.
- Cutting board and knife
- Tongs for putting the fish chunks into the jars
- A non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel)
- A large, non-reactive bowl for marinating (glass or ceramic)
- Measuring cups and measuring spoons
This recipe has long marinating and holding time to allow the vinegar to thoroughly dissolve the many bones in the fish.
2 quarts of sucker cut into one inch by half inch chunks
- ½ cup of salt
- 1 quart of vinegar
- 2 cups of vinegar (white vinegar or apple-cider vinegar with at least a 5 percent acetic acid concentration)
- 2 cups of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of pickling spice
- 1 cup of white wine
- 1 sliced onion separated into rings
Mix the salt, vinegar and water and pour over fish in a glass or ceramic bowl or crock. Weigh down the fish with a plate to keep it immersed. Let stand 5 days in the refrigerator, and then drain and rinse with water. Pack in jar. Put fish, then layer of onion, then fish. Mix 2 cups vinegar, sugar and pickling spices and wine and heat and stir in a non-reactive saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Let cool, and pour into jars. Do not cook. Let stand 5 days in the fridge.
This recipe also has a marinating step to dissolve the y-bones common in northern pike.
- 1 pound of thawed northern pike fillets, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 quart white vinegar or apple-cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons whole yellow mustard seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 cloves, whole
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 carrot, thinly sliced
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
Make a brine combining the salt with a quart of water in a Mason jar or glass bowl. Add the pike to the brine and soak for 24 hours. Drain the fish, but do not rinse it. Add a quart of vinegar to the fish and soak for an additional 24 hours. Drain the fish.
Combine a cup of vinegar, a half cup of water, and the sugar in a nonreactive saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar, and then remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
In a 1-quart Mason jar, add a quarter of the fish, then add some of the spices and sliced carrot and onion. Repeat with the remainder of the fish, spices, and vegetables so that the ingredients are layered and evenly dispersed. Pour the vinegar mixture into the jar. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least three days to allow the flavors to develop.
Pickled Trout or Salmon
- 2 pounds trout or salmon
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon of black peppercorns
- 1/4 teaspoon whole allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon dill seed
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 red onion sliced into rings
Combine water, vinegar, seasonings and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve sugar, and let cool. Rinse filets and cut into 1-inch pieces. Slice onion. Arrange fish and onion rings in alternate layers in sterilized jars. Cover with pickling solution. Refrigerate at least three days before serving. The fish will keep up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
Have you ever pickled fish? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below: