September/December 2011

September/December 2011
September/December 2011
September/December 2011

 

THE FINE ART OF FREEZING FISH

By Larry E. Stefanyk
Fresh frozen fish begin the moment you kill the fish and remove the hook. One of the most important first steps is to bleed the fish by cutting or tearing the gills, and allowing the fish to bleed into a fish tub or into the fish box if no tub is available. In the case of salmon it is a good practice to gill and gut the fish soon as possible. To get firm clean white fillets from lingcod, rockfish and halibut it is paramount to bleed the fish. Once the fish is bled out it must be stored in a fish box with an adequate supply of ice to last during the duration of the trip. Fish that are chilled and bled will be fresh and firm when processed for freezing fish that are neglected and allowed to reach summer time temperature during the trip enter a state of progressive spoilage thereby destroying the delicious flavor of fresh fish.
Most people consider frozen fish inferior in quality and taste to freshly caught, and the truth is this is often the case. However, in most cases those fish of questionable flavour were probably inferior when they went into the freezer. At best freezing maintains taste and quality; it cannot improve it.
Even if properly cared for beforehand, freezer burn will result in fish that has the taste and texture of rancid blotting paper. The cause is cold air drawing moisture out of the flesh until it becomes desiccated and stringy. Fortunately, there are methods to prevent air from reaching the flesh....

WRAPPING MATERIALS
Best are heavy-duty plastic “cling wraps” (Handi_Wrap, Saran Wrap, etc.) or aluminum foil. While wrapping the fish, ensure that all air has been squeezed from the package before sealing it. Cover with heavy-duty freezer wrap to prevent punctures.
 

GLAZING
The most efficient method for long term storage is “glazing” the flesh with ice. Dip the piece or whole fish in ice_cold water, then place it on a plate inside the freezer until a film of ice forms (my wife uses a metal cookie sheet). Repeat until ice builds to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Cover with freezer wrap to prevent chipping.
 

FREEZING IN ICE
Freeze whole fish, steaks or fillets in water filled containers such as polyester freezer bags (not polyethylene), glass or plastic containers, or waxed cardboard milk cartons. After totally immersing the fish in ice water, knead it with a spatula to release all trapped air. After freezing, cover any exposed flesh with ice water and refreeze.
Various machines will shrink-wrap and heat-seal fish in plastic bags. They range in price from $40 to &400 and, yes, you get what you pay for. Thin gauge plastic material is best for vacuum sealing, but use a heavier gauge if the bags will be water filled.

HOME FREEZERS
For top quality, fish must be frozen as soon as possible after catching it -- and as quickly as possible once it’s in the freezer. Home freezers are great at keeping food frozen, but terribly inefficient at initially freezing it. A unit operating at about 10 degrees F, Celsius might take 24 hours to freeze a 10 pound package of fillets, but a large commercial freezer operating at 35 degrees F or Celsius can freeze a ton of fish in two hours.
A typical home freezer is chilled by refrigerant pumped through cooling coils. Warm air from the interior is absorbed and carried outside, where the heat dissipates. A home unit, with only a fraction of the capacity, refrigerant and cooling surface of a large commercial freezer, must work harder and longer to replace the warm air with cold.
Opening a freezer lid or door warms the interior. When closed, the temperature will not drop back down until the refrigeration coils absorb and remove the warmed air. When a package at room temperature is placed in a freezer, it generates warmth, further slowing the process. Large packages say 10 per cent or more of a freezer’s capacity raise its temperature by up to 11 degrees Celsius.

QUICK CHILLING
You can assist a home freezer by chilling the fish beforehand with a mixture of 20 parts crushed ice to one part pickling salt. Spread the ice three inches deep in a cooler that has an open drain at the bottom. Add a layer of fish or fillets that have been sealed in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Fill the spaces between each package with crushed ice. Cover with more ice, then another layer of fish. Cover the last layer with about three inches of ice.
With the cooler lid tightly closed, its internal temperature will lower to 2 degrees Celsius, quickly chilling the fish. This system is ideal for boats or campers as it will keep fish in excellent condition for up to one week. Upon arrival home, the chilled fish can be transferred into the freezer with minimal impact on its refrigeration system.

AUXILIARY FREEZING
If your refrigerator has a frost-free freezer compartment, transfer its contents into your home freezer, then use the compartment to freeze fish. Once frozen, transfer it immediately to the freezer. Never store fish in a frost-free freezer compartment as it will dry out quickly.
 

SUPER-QUICK FREEZING
"Heat sinks" increase the freezing efficiency of any freezer. These are small containers filled with a eutectic solution pickling salt and water which does not freeze until it reaches 21 degrees Celsius (water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius).
WARNING: This solution is extremely corrosive, so plastic water containers are recommended.
All ingredients are by weight: Pickling salt: 23 per cent/Water: 77 per cent (11½ lb salt + 38½ lb water = 50 lb).
Freezing the tightly sealed containers takes up to a week, but they stay frozen much longer than regular ice before starting to melt. When packaged fish are placed in the freezer, the containers quickly absorb their heat, which is then transferred gradually to the refrigeration system.
To speed the freezing process even more, place frozen heat sinks and plastic wrapped fish in a suitable sized dishpan, then cover with a chilled solution of the same salt brine. When small fish, steaks or fillets are placed in the freezer, they will freeze solid in about one hour.
 

Huxley’s Run: 

Try-angle-you-ation

In that particular September I had fly fished the beach a lot. It was if I couldn’t stop. Every morning, noon or evening it would call and I would partake of the aphrodisiac it had become. Sometimes I would wake up and have a hard time remembering where I fished the day before. It had all become a blur. But the coho took so well that year, and so freely, I couldn’t stop. My right index finger was worn raw from stripping the fly line. My face and hands had become bushman colored and seemed deformed in comparison to the white paleness of the rest of my body. I was in the zone.

Brent Marin and I arrived at the beach one late afternoon and watched from shore as the coho flipped and flopped and rolled and porpoised. We waded in and partook. We didn’t hit many fish and they soon moved off just out of reach. We stood and waited for them to show closer, to cover them quickly. There was a lull.

And then I saw a movement beneath the surface at about the end range of my casting ability. How I knew it was a big fish I really can’t describe. I just, well, felt it. My fly landed perfectly and for a second there was nothing. I hadn’t even stripped the line once, yet I knew the fish was there. More than that I knew the fish had my fly in its mouth, yet I didn’t set the hook. I really don’t know what I was doing except just prolonging a wonderful and exquisite sense of knowledge. It didn’t take line. Whatever it was doing was sending subtle, almost imperceptible vibrations along the fly line and to my hand. I turned and called out, “Brent, watch this.”

Brent was 30 feet away and turned to see me smiling goofily at him, standing there with my fly rod straight out, the line from the tip sagged with lack of tension. He was perplexed and asked, “Watch what?” “This,” I said. I tightened. One, two, three slow strips. Resistance. Four, five…and the coho exploded out of the water.

We got a good look at it and estimated its size at 17 or plus pounds. It landed going away, my fly line and backing zipped out as if they were trying to pass the fish in a passing lane. Then, ping, it was gone. I looked at Brent, his eyebrows still up and then we both laughed. Cool doesn’t describe it. Way cool doesn’t either.

From that hero moment we flash forward to a week later. I had invited my friend Dan Smith down to the same beach. The tide was a little higher and the broad estuary, with its dips and doodles was a dangerous thing. I explained expertly to Dan that the only way to navigate the gravel bars and drop offs was to spend a lot of time there, which I had, and to get land bearings. “Then you triangulate,” I said confidently.

“Triangulate?” Dan asked.

“Yes, triangulate,” I said. “Follow me.”

At first Dan was, I think, impressed at how far we could get out and how much closer we could get to those coho. Then looking over my shoulder at my landmarks, I told him, “follow me out this way, it gets a little uncomfortably deep but it hooks up to another ridge and shallows up.” Off I went and suddenly noticed Dan hadn’t moved. “Come on,” I said, “it’s fine.”

Dan just pulled line off his rod and said, “I’m fine. I’ll fish from here.”

I shrugged and started wading out just as a coho jumped, a little out of range. False casting, I started wading forward, the ocean level at my ribs. I cast and the coho took. Then I was treading water. I could feel the tug of the coho, but more to the point, I could feel the cold water up to my ears and making its icy way into my waders.

There was nothing to do but the breaststroke. I put the cork butt of my rod into my mouth and, to hell with triangulation, swam right for shore. Ten minutes later I found footing, waded further in, took the rod out of my mouth and landed a three-pound coho. Through chattering teeth I bid farewell to Dan, I was going home for a hot shower.

He was smiling, well entertained and fully knowledgeable about the inherent dangers of triangulating.

 

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