Despite a cold spring, summer has finally arrived here on the Kenai Peninsula. With the warm weather we have finally enjoyed let’s use this as a starting point for all of us in preparing to put the finest quality fish in our freezers that we can. Plan ahead, think of ways or things you can do to improve the processing of whatever fish you choose to harvest. There is an old rule about processing fish that says if you put poor quality fish in your freezer or in the canning jars you’re also going to take poor quality fish back out. Freezing or canning fish does not improve the quality of the fish; it merely preserves it at its present state. The sooner you get your fish processed the better it is going to be on the table. Whenever you see a brightly painted sign or an ad advertising "Fresh fish" what thoughts go through your mind? Don't most of you see a freshly caught and clean fish packed away in ice, prepared to be wrapped and either prepared to eat or wrapped and put in the freezer. If you could see the catch records of each fish you bought you would know exactly how long this fish had been out of the water. But the big thing it will not tell you is just how this fish was handled or taken care of before it was placed in the display case or photographed for that colorful ad. If you purchased that fish that was advertised as being fresh would you take it to a nearby lake and soak it in shallow water along shore for half a day? Of course not, but yet many of us think nothing of putting a stringer of fish in shallow water along shore for hours in hot weather and then when they are soft and mushy take them home to eat. A live well may also help keep your fish alive but does very little to improve the quality of your fish for the table. You see my friends, live wells take the warmest water in the lake or river, which is the water right off the top and run it over our fish which does nothing to cool then like a chest of ice would. Imagine the following ads; Warm water soaked fish, unbled dirty red salmon for sale (some have leaves and dirt on them), 5 day old salmon (unclean) some still have ice on them! Not very appetizing is it? Yet some of our fellow Alaskans are doing this sort of thing year after year. So how can we improve the quality of our fish? Number one is to bleed your fish (simply rip out one gill or both) as soon as it is caught and get it on ice. Keep your fish as clean as you can and also make sure your fish-cleaning table is also clean and not full of bacteria from previous fish cleaning jobs. That is why stainless steel makes a much better fish cleaning table then wood. If you’re going out dip netting, which gives you a chance to harvest a whole lot of fish in a very short time, get your fish cleaning station all set up and ready to go before you even go out fishing. Do whatever steps it takes to greatly shorten the amount of time it takes you to take that fish from the water to the freezer or canning jars. Let’s start right at the beginning again. After you catch the fish, do not BEAT your fish with a club to kill it as this prevents the fish from bleeding out besides possibly bruising the meat if you hit it any other place then the head area. Rip out one gill or both and place your fish in a cooler of ice. Do not put these fish in a black garbage bag at any time! Garbage bags are generally made from an oil product and never have been intended for food use. Besides the fact that black attracts heat and does further damage to your fish by speeding up the decomposition process with the intense heat they draw in. Please follow this simple rule, if you’re going to wear it or eat it don't put it in a trash bag. How many trash bags full of camping gear or snow pants ended up at the dump because someone thought they were trash! Once your fish are cleaned, get them washed up and wrapped as soon as possible. Don't leave them sitting around for days before you get them properly wrapped and put away. Do not be coerced into the freezing without cleaning, something many of your neighbors are practicing. Imagine this ad "Unclean, previously frozen fish” or this one "Freshly caught and cleaned fish", which do you think most customers would prefer? Another rule of processing food is this; if you’re not going to eat it why put it in your freezer. I know you have all heard the thing about how much better the fish keeps in the freezer if it is not gutted. Just how long are you planning on storing this fish? Salmon come in every year so why should we need it to keep longer then a year? Isn't the key word "fresh" that excites the consumer looking to buy fish? I know I can put fish in my freezer and it will still be good a year later so why would I even consider not gutting it? Alaska offers many varieties of ways to fill our freezers with different types of fish each year. How we handle these fish and the amount of time it takes us to process them decides what kind of food we are going to put on our table each year. If you can only eat 30 salmon a year then don't put 75 in your freezer. Why go through all the work each year just to throw away fish every spring. Besides wasting fish, figure out the cost of your freezer paper, tape, electricity, etc., just to end up throwing it back out again. Take a few to that elderly couple down the street, but please clean them first; this is another rule of giving away fish to our elderly or those in need. It is not really a gift if it creates extra work for them; a cleaned fresh fish is a gift from the heart. Let's all make a better effort in reaching out to some of these elderly in our communities and making sure they are able to eat freshly caught fish as often as they choose. If you have someone in your area that really could use some fish but don't have any available please contact my family or I and we will drop off some fish for them. Being a true Alaskan to me means more then being a resident here; you also do your part in taking care of those in need. See you next week!
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