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seafood

Freezing your fish

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Freezing your fish

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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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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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World Book Day

(it was dead when I found it)

(it was dead when I found it)

In a former life I spent a year working on a little island off the coast of Tanzania called Mafia. I helped conduct research for the marine park there. Life was pretty tough. In between dives, there was little else to do but play volleyball, go fishing, walk along miles of pristine white beaches and read books in my hammock.

Like I said, life was hard, but it did give me the opportunity to read a great number of books about the sea. So here, for world book day are my top fishy reads:

 

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The Log From The Sea of Cortez
John Steinbeck

No, not pulp fiction about an errant piece of flotsam, but an account of a fishing/research trip around the Gulf of California with marine biologist Ed Ricketts- 'a great teacher, a great lecher- an immortal who loved women'. (He later based 'Doc' from Cannery Row on him). 

It's essentially an account of a specimen collecting expedition, which could be pretty tawdry stuff, but Steinbeck's wit, charm and oddball philosophising make it a great read, with some brilliant characters.

 

 

Seven- Tenths: The Sea and its Thresholds
James Hamilton-Paterson

More a collection of essays, than a book. It's a perfect blend of science and literature. If you like Roger Deakin's Wildwood, then have a look. An ethereal, slightly hallucinogenic look at the oceans.

 

Mediterranean Seafood
Alan Davidson

Once the British Ambassador to Laos, Alan Davidson's book is right up my street. At first glance it's a nerdy assay of all the species of fish found in the Mediterranean, with their common names in Turkish, Spanish- all the swarthy languages. But alongside the illustrations are notes on cuisine. Imagine a Collins bird guide with roasting instructions. He also wrote a similar book on North Atlantic Seafood. But personally I think it lacks the summery vibes of his first. Useful if you want to pickle herring though.

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Cod
Mark Kurlansky

According to Mark Kurlansky, pretty much every one of man's greatest achievements was somehow reached serendipitously whilst in the search for cod, well discovering America was anyway.

This really is a charming history of a fish so commonplace we tend to forget its ubiquity on menus. Following the early Basque fishermen all the way to the collapse of the Grand Banks fishery, the tale of cod is a tragic, but important one.

 

The End of The Line
Charles Clover

I remember putting this book down and deciding I'd stop lazing around on beaches and go and do a Masters. It's an amazingly powerful idictment of industrialised fishing and the woeful mismanagement of our oceans. Powerful stuff.

 

The Unnatural History of the Sea
Prof Callum Roberts

My professor from the aforementioned Masters course wrote this. It tracks the effects on our oceans of mankind's past mistakes, while also keeping an eye on the solutions. It's eloquently done and while it paints a grim picture, there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Coral Reef Fishes
Ewald Lieske & Robert Myers

The definitive book on reef fishes. A bible for marine biologists with a tropical bent. My copy's caked in suncream and sand. Sadly out of print now. God knows what they're using these days. Ipad or something. Try getting that covered in sand and suncream.

 

Obviously, if you think I've missed out a classic or have any recommendations, do leave a comment.

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