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Freezing your fish

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Freezing your fish

fish-freezer-norway.jpg

I get asked a lot about freezing fish. What freezes well, how long things last, will it ruin the fish..?

I found some cuttlefish in the back of my freezer drawer this summer. It was probably from last spring, but could have been from 2014! Either way, I defrosted it, barbecued it and it tasted great. I mean, you really couldn’t notice it had been frozen great.

Cephalopods, like squid and cuttlefish are particularly adept to freezing. Something about the dense, uniformity of their flesh means the ice crystals don’t affect the texture too much.

While fish don't freeze quite as well as squid, there's still no need to fear your freezer. All sashimi grade fish in Japan is frozen before it's sold. And bluefin tuna (the most expensive fish in the world) is frozen on the fishing boat.

The best way to freeze fish is to dip them in water and freeze them, then dip and freeze, dip and freeze... until there's a protective coat of ice around them. Fine if you're freezing a prize fish for auction, but if you've got that much time to spare, you might as well cook it.

bluefin tuna

bluefin tuna

If you get home with some leftover fish that you know you won’t be able to eat in the next two days, put it straight in the freezer. If it goes in fresh, it comes out fresh. Just give it a clean (scale, gut and rinse), pop it in a ziplock bag and you're good to go. It'll be quite happy for a month (and quite edible 3 months later).

The reason why we’re so suspicious of freezers is probably our own fault. I’ll quite often find some fish that’s been sat in the fridge for 4 or 5 days and think ‘I’m not going to have time to cook that, I’ll chuck it in the freezer’. It’s no surprise that when it comes out of the freezer, it’s not at its best.

I have the same problem when I make soup that isn’t particularly tasty. ‘Oh, I’ll freeze the rest’ [cue disappointing meal 3 months later in which you slowly remember it was pretty horrible the first time round].

You can even cook frozen fish without defrosting them first. Check out our experiments here.

 

Freezer tips

Freeze fresh
If it goes in fresh, it comes out fresh. Make sure to scale, gut and clean your fish before freezing them.

Seal it tight
Air is your enemy. You’re best off putting it in a ziplock bag and squeezing all the air out before sealing. This also makes sure your ice cubes don’t get all fishy.

Label it
Write down what’s in the bag and the date it went in and you won’t get any nasty surprises, like that time I made a chicken casserole with fish stock.

Freeze in portions
If you’ve got a lot of fish, don’t freeze it all in the same bag. The same goes for freezing stock and stews. If you freeze them in individual portions, you don’t have to defrost the whole lot to make dinner for one.

Save space
I’ve got a tiny freezer, so often fillet and skin fish before freezing to save on space. Plus,  little chunks of fish like this are really handy for fish tacos, stews or fishcakes. 

Stock bag
If you fillet fish, it’s a good idea to have a ziplock bag in the freezer that you can chuck any heads, frames and trimmings into. Once you’ve built up a healthy amount, boil it up for stock. 
Although never use oily fish (mackerel, herrings or sardines) for fish stock, it tastes rank. 

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Cooking fish from frozen

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Cooking fish from frozen

One of our members told me a few months ago that he often puts his fish straight in the freezer when he gets home and then cooks them over the week- straight out of the freezer! I'm a big fan of my freezer- so much so, I wrote a blog about it. But I've never cooked a fish that's frozen solid before.

I wanted to give it a go, so dutifully froze some leftover dabs in preparation. I forgot to scale and rinse them, which would have been a good idea. Something to keep in mind if you're planning on doing this kind of thing on the reg reg.

 I had three dabs, so tried three different approaches- grilled, baked and pan-fried.

Grilled:
This is how I normally cook smallish fish. The skin crisps up nicely, so you get some nice Maillard flavours and it's the quickest way to cook a whole fish. I was slightly nervous about grilling a frozen fish though. Normally I turn the grill up to 11, but was worried I might char the skin, without the heat penetrating down to the bone. So I had the grill up to two-thirds.

It took a little longer than usual (no surprise there), but actually worked a treat. The skin blistered and had some lovely charred bubbles. If I'd scaled the fish first, I think it would have worked out much better. The flesh has a drier taste and feel, like cooking on wood or charcoal. Although there was a slight hint of burnt taste, which might have come from the charred baking parchment.

Pan fried:
I rarely pan fry fish. Mainly because I don't like washing up. Baking tray and parchment are my friends. I oiled the pan and had it over a low heat. After five minutes, there wasn't much going on. I turned the heat up a bit and put a lid on. After another 8 minutes it was good to go.
Not so firm as the grilled fish (mainly because it had steamed under the lid), but perfectly tasty. 

Baked:
The third dab went into an oiled roasting dish and into the oven at 220C. It took 15 minutes to cook and had I not known it was frozen when it went in, I wouldn't have guessed it. Great flavour and texture.

 

 

Verdict
For frozen dabs, grilling wins. There is a caveat in this though. I probably shouldn't have used the smallest flat fish there is to test out cooking from frozen. I think anything plumper, like a portion-sized plaice, wouldn't have cooked in quite the same way. The skin would char and the frozen bones would keep the innermost meat from cooking. That's a guess though.

I think a hot oven (220C), would cook most flatfish under 700g, pretty nicely. Sure it'll take longer, but certainly not longer than the 24 hours in the fridge you'd normally spend defrosting it. Something to remember when you've got nothing in the fridge to eat.

 

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National Vegetarian Week

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National Vegetarian Week

I know a lot of people who have abandoned animal protein altogether- not because they have issues with the ethics of eating animals, but more because they worry about the sustainability of it all.

Animal agriculture is the single largest contributor to climate change- the methane they give off is 21 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon.

The soy needed to feed them is a cash crop in the tropics, where native habitats are clear-cut to grow it.

Large scale use of anitbiotics to prevent animals kept in hideous conditions from getting sick could have dire consequences for future (human) epidemics.

The numbers of large, predatory fish have declined globally by 90% and fish farming, still a young industry, is far from reaching standards many of us find acceptable.

 

Fair enough, on the whole and especially in the States, the food system has become a monstrous beast. It takes in a horrifying amount of resources and produces a terrifying amount of waste, purely to make cheap meat available to a growing class of people who eat meat three times a day. I can see where the vegetarians are coming from. But let’s think about the logic of the argument.

We have three categories of people, those who refuse to eat meat, those who will eat meat regardless and a third group who eat meat responsibly.

By responsible meat consumption, I mean people who eat animal protein a few times a week. They spend good money on good quality meat products. They’re happy to spend more as the meat is delicious, it’s had a good life and hasn’t been intensively reared and pumped full of hormones to make a quick buck. 

To grow animals in this way takes time and money. The farmers that do it have the same morals as the responsible meat eaters- they don’t want us to slide into the US system of cattle lots and hog ranches.

It’s the same with fishing. You can fish responsibly in harmony with the sea and the seasons, or you can hoover up everything you find or grow fish in pens and feed them on drugs and other ground up fish.

Here’s the crux of my argument. For every person that gives up eating meat, we lose someone from the responsible meat eater group. The group that doesn’t care grows larger and the group that does care grows ever smaller.

As less people buy responsibly sourced fish and meat, the people who were providing it are unable to make a living. They chuck in their jobs, sell it to larger interests with no concept of sustainability or they’re forced to cut costs and corners to sell their products to the supermarkets.

What happens then? The unaccountable food industry tightens its grip and takes over the entire supply chain.

No more small farmers, no more small fishermen, no more local produce. Just cheap, homogenous, bland food.

‘Ah’ say the vegans, ‘but if everyone gave up animal protein then the world would live in harmony’.

We’ll never stop the world from eating meat. It’s too delicious and most people don’t give a damn. A more pragmatic approach is to eat less meat. Eat better meat and eat meat better.

If we only ate meat two or three times a week, it would have the same effect as two thirds of the world going vegetarian. But we’d still all eat meat and not bore anyone with our sanctimonious tirades.

You won’t find many fishmongers telling you this, but we need to eat less fish. We need to eat less animal protein full stop. When you buy animal protein of any kind, make sure you know where it came from, what it’s life was like and whether it’s a good idea to be eating it at all. Chances are you won’t find any of this information in the supermarket, so go and support a local independent retailer instead! 

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Quota quotes

Today the New Economics Foundation published a report on fishing. It says that if we reduce fishing pressure (ie catch less fish) then in ten years, stocks will recover to a point where we’ll actually catch more fish.

It also argues that small-scale fishermen, who use low impact methods (like the ones we work with here at SoleShare), should be given more quota than they currently have, so they would be allowed to land and sell more fish. This would obviously mean taking quota away from the bigger trawlers whose methods use more energy, have greater impacts on the marine environment and employ less people.

This isn’t some loony left wing idea either. The Common Fisheries Policy, the piece of European legislation governing fishing in our shared seas, actually set out to do this across the board, starting in January.

As you can imagine though, the vested interests of the large fleets want to hold on to their quota. Bertie Armstrong, head of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (the big industry body) has said
"Redistributing quota is a bit like saying to a farmer who has looked after his land and invested in his business over generations - thanks for all you have done and your stewardship of the land, but we are now going to take away your fields and give them over to allotment farmers."

Well it’s not. The Common Fisheries Policy and the industrial trawler barons it has created have done little to help fish, fishermen or the wider marine environment. The past 20 years has been a mess. Those in charge, who have grown fat on the subsidies and found themselves in positions of power are obvious advocates of maintaining the status quo.

Mr Armstrong is also purposefully framing the issue in this certain way. By aligning fishermen with farmers, it instantly conjures up images of Mugabe’s reallocation of farms in the 90’s. A policy move which moved Zimbabwe from the breadbasket of Africa to one of the world’s most food insecure nations.

The Cornelius Vrolik has 26% of English quota

The Cornelius Vrolik has 26% of English quota

The Annalousion has 0.0003% of English quota

The Annalousion has 0.0003% of English quota

This is harmful rhetoric and totally irrelevant. We’re not giving quota to people who’ve never gone fishing before. We’re simply taking some of the quota from the big boys and giving it to the inshore fleet.

Remember the UK inshore fleet makes up 80% of the UK fishing fleet, yet only gets to catch 4% of the fish. One single (Dutch) vessel, the Cornelis Vrolijk has 6% of the UK quota, more than the whole inshore fleet combined! And it employs a handful of people.

Inshore fishermen fish on the same patch of sea every day. It’s in their interest to look after it, because they rely on its underlying health to supply them with the fish they catch. While the way they fish is more environmentally sustainable, it’s not economically sustainable. We set up SoleShare to give them more money for the fish they catch, but if they’re not allowed to catch any fish, there’s not much we can do!

Don’t get me wrong, I'm not saying we should transition to a fleet made entirely of small dayboats, but we need to make sure we have a resilient, profitable inshore fleet. We need a mixture of larger and smaller vessels. They serve different needs and a healthy mix is best for supply, best for the seas and best for employment in the industry.

At the end of the day this is about the right to fish. The fish in the sea are not owned by fishermen. They are as much ours as they are theirs, they’re a public good. It shouldn’t be up to Producer Organisations to say who gets to catch what, we need a fairer more transparent system.

Greenpeace are currently fighting a legal battle to find out exactly who owns all the quota in this country. The government, despite a number of Freedom of Information requests have stayed tight lipped on the matter. Why, we don’t know. Maybe Putin owns it all, or ISIS, or the French government.

What we do know is that no matter who owns it, those who control it have done a terrible job with it over the past few decades. The number of fishermen has declined and the number of healthy fish stocks with it.

Redistribution shouldn’t be a dirty word. We should just reward those that do a job well with the ability to do the job even better.

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Tough times for our inshore fleet

At SoleShare, we work with independent inshore fishermen. The inshore fleet’s been steadily declining for years and we started our Community Supported Fishery to give them a steady and stable market with fair prices for their fish.  

A few weeks ago, the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo reached our shores, bringing with it gale force winds. Our guys spent a good few days unable to fish. Weather’s always problematic for dayboats and it’s something that they factor into their daily life.

A week after hurricane Gonzalo, another storm hit the south coast and this time, no one saw it coming. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO), who are in charge of quota for the UK fleet, decided to close the inshore fisheries for skate and plaice in Sector VIId.

VIId covers the Eastern English Channel and is where the majority of our fishermen operate. And the inshore fleet had caught all their quota (the slice of the pie that's divvied out between all the boats in Europe). As a result of this closure, they’re not allowed to land any plaice or rays. Both of these are mixed species fisheries. One of our fishermen uses 6 inch tangle nets to target large plaice, soles and cod, but it’s really the soles he’s after.

Same goes for the skate fishery, the 10.5 inch trammel nets they use, not only catch skates and rays but turbot, halibut and brill- all three of which command a much better price on the dock.

The fishermen are faced with a problem, stop setting ground nets to make sure they don’t catch any plaice or rays, or simply discard the ones they catch and keep the more lucrative species.

Luckily, the static gear used by most inshore boats mean that the majority of the plaice and rays thrown back into the sea will survive, still, many won’t.

There’s an old adage in fishing- it’s hard to be green when you’re in the red. With crews to pay, loans on boats and mortgages to think of, the fishermen are put in awful position. 

These guys haven’t done anything wrong, they fish using some of the most environmentally sustainable techniques possible, but it’s problems like this that make their way of life economically unsustainable.

Greenpeace have recently started a campaign to make sure our new fisheries minister, George Eustice makes sure quota allocation is done in a fairer way, with a larger slice of the pie given to smaller, more sustainable fishers. It’s one that we fully support. We need new measures to ensure the survival of the inshore fleet, we give a helping hand to a small number of fishermen, but we need policy changes to really secure their futures and the future of their industry.

This example should put things into context:

There are around 12,000 inshore fishermen in the UK. They share 4% of the total UK quota of fish. 

The Cornelis Vrolijk (on the left) is a Dutch trawler that flies a British flag. It has 23% of the UK fish quota. It lands all its fish in Holland.

So one trawler, employing just 55 British crew has over FIVE TIMES as much quota as ALL the inshore fishermen in the UK.

Does that seem fair to you..? 

 

It's issues like this that have enraged fishermen all over the south coast. Many want to see us withdraw from the EU and take control of our own fish stocks. However, it's much more important that we actually get involved with EU negotiations to ensure a fair deal for our small scale fishermen.

Please support the new Greenpeace campaign, we will be.

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