Most fish is mishandled to some degree, but a little tender, loving care will ensure high quality on your plate.
To ensure top quality:
Keep fish clean and cold to slow bacterial growth, the main cause of fish spoilage and "off" flavors.
Bleed all fish when they're caught by tearing or cutting a gill raker.
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.
Avoid getting fish slime on the flesh. Freezing a slimy fillet can lead to "off" flavors.
If your home freezer can't maintain 0 degrees or colder, some bacterial growth will occur. Check it with a thermometer.
Oxidation causes fat to turn rancid, and freezer burn causes dessication, the toughening of tissues.
The best way to prevent both is vacuum packaging. Regarding home vacuum packers, I recommend the Weston Pro 2300, which is superior to any of the Foodsaver (Tilia) products.
The Pro 2300, available locally at Trustworthy Hardware & Fishing, costs more than the Foodsaver machines, but the Weston bags are less expensive. Unlike Foodsaver, Weston sells parts for its machines, including gaskets and sealer strips.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Get in the habit of taking good care of your fish. By doing a few things right, you can turn yuks into yums.
Les Palmer lives in Sterling.
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