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The fish of last summer

Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010

Those fish you caught and stored in your freezer last July won't last forever. It's time to do something with them, while they're still good food.

Oxygen causes rancidity, a definite off-putting flavor. Vacuum packing, the best way of keeping fish in a home freezer, does a good job of isolating oxygen from fish flesh. However, fish don't always get the best possible care before they're frozen. Blood, slime and bacteria end up in the bag. Bacteria grow until the fish is frozen to 0 degrees, and slow growth continues, even at colder temperatures. This is one reason why the fish you caught in July don't taste as good eight or nine months later.

The good news is that you can't remember what those fish tasted like when they were fresh. They're still good food. They just need a little special treatment.

If you thaw fish at room temperature, don't be surprised when it tastes "fishy." To hold down the growth of bacteria, it's important to keep thawing fish cold. Ideally, thaw it overnight in a refrigerator. For faster thawing, thaw it in a large container of cold water. In either case, leave it in the plastic while thawing.

To make "late-winter" fish better:

* Trim off all fat, whitish "freezer-burn" and bloody flesh. Fish are often hit on the head to stun them, but the blow sometimes misses. Trim off any tan- or brown-colored bruises.

* Soaking fish in milk in the refrigerator before cooking helps remove some "off" flavors.

* Thaw salmon and smoke it. What's not eaten or given away can be canned or vacuum packed and refrozen.

* Try variations of blackened fish. To avoid smoke damage or worse, do this in a cast-iron pan outdoors on a camp cookstove.

* Add a little extra lemon pepper and garlic powder on a salmon fillet, along with fresh parsley and lemon wedges on the serving platter. If you can take the heat, a sprinkling of cayenne pepper will provide it.

* Serve a sauce or a fresh and healthy salsa with fish. I wrote about salsas for fish last month in this column. (Visit peninsulaclarion.com and do a site search for "Eat More Salmon.") Many fish recipes contain recipes for sauces.

* Try marinades on salmon. Ingredients I've seen in salmon marinades have included miso, soy sauce, olive oil, brown sugar, Dijon mustard, minced garlic and minced ginger root.

* Fish patties and loaves are great for leftover fish, whether salmon or white-fleshed.

For no end of ideas on ways to cook fish, Google "salmon recipes" and "fish recipes." Since the importance of eating salmon has become such a big deal, the "Food Network" chefs, including Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay and Alton Brown, have come up with their own spins on salmon. Try these, and try coming up with your own.

The Kenai Peninsula is one of the best places on earth for catching fish, but there's a catch: Those of us who take fish home are morally obligated to keep this precious gift from going to waste. With this in mind, bon apptit!

Les Palmer lives in Sterling.



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