Fish need not taste fishy

Posted: Friday, July 31, 2009

When I hear people say they don't like fish because it tastes "fishy," I raise an eyebrow. If fish receives proper care from the time it's taken from the water, it shouldn't taste or smell fishy on a dinner plate.

In my experience, most fish is mishandled to some degree. Some of this is done by people who are just too lazy or too cheap to do the job right, and some is done by people who simply don't know how to do it right. Either way, it's wrong to let your fish go bad needlessly.

To ensure top quality:

c Always keep fish "clean" and "cold" to slow bacterial growth, the main cause of fish spoilage and "off" flavors.

c Bleed fish as soon as they're caught by tearing or cutting a gill raker.

c Ideally, a fish will be bled, gutted, gilled and packed in ice upon being caught, but the ideal is rare on sport-fishing outings. If fish have to remain in a fish box or cooler for a few hours, it's best to keep them as cold as possible and to leave them whole. A fish's skin helps keep out bacteria.

c Avoid getting fish slime on the flesh. Freezing a slimy fillet is a sure way to cause "off" flavors.

c If your home freezer can't maintain 0 degrees or colder, some bacterial growth will occur. Check it with a thermometer.

c Oxidation causes fat to turn rancid, and freezer burn causes dessication, the toughening of tissues. The best way to prevent both is vacuum packaging.

c Any thawing of frozen fish causes bacterial growth and flavor changes, which is why you shouldn't put very much fresh, unfrozen fish in a freezer containing frozen food. Also avoid placing unfrozen fish on top of frozen fish. The frozen fish will partially thaw and then slowly freeze again.

c Fish should be spread out on racks and quickly frozen. For home freezing, the ideal is to have one freezer for freezing and another for storage.

c Consider having your fish vacuum packed and frozen by local fish processors. And be sure to check on the quality of their service before giving them your fish.

c If you store fish in a home freezer for more than a couple of months, you may start to note changes in flavor and texture. (This is especially true with rockfish.) Reduce the chances of this by labeling your packages with the species and date and by using a "first in, first out" system.

c Thaw fish either in the refrigerator or in cold water. If you thaw your fish in cold water, it should be in a plastic bag with all air removed. Thawing fish at room temperature causes bacterial growth.

By getting in the habit of taking good care of your fish, you and everyone who eats it will appreciate the difference. Eating your catch will become sheer pleasure, the crowning moment of your fishing experience.

Les Palmer lives and writes in Sterling.

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