Storing Fish

Packing smoked mullet into sealable plastic bags.

Packing smoked mullet
into sealable plastic bags.

Fish can be eaten immediately after smoking though many people say that it tastes better when cold. Smoked fish should be wrapped up in wax paper or foil and stored in a refrigerator where it can remain for up to 10 days. To hold it longer we have to freeze it.

Hot smoked products made from white fish generally keep better than those made from fatty fish, although shelf life will vary considerably, depending on the amounts of salt and smoke present, the degree of drying, and the storage temperature. At a chill temperature of about 38 F (3° C) fatty products will keep in good condition for about 6 days and white fish products for about 8 days; at 50° F (10° C) the shelf life is reduced to 2-3 days for fatty fish and 4-5 days for white fish.

Hot smoked products can be frozen and kept in cold store at -22° F (-30° C) for at least 6 months, and for longer when vacuum packed. Products with a high fat content are inclined to have a soft texture after freezing and thawing. Salted fish should be stored in a cool, dark place, especially if it is fat. The rate of spoilage in salt fish doubles with each 18° F; salt fish kept at 95° F (35° C) will spoil twice as fast as the fish kept at 80° F (27° C). Keep salt fish at low temperatures where it can remain up to 2 years. The fish can be stored in strong brine at low temperatures, but it must be submerged.

Mark the date when the fish goes into the freezer. Try to freeze fish as fast as possible by making sure they have access to cold air and are not just lying on top of each other. In a day or two you can rearrange them the way you like. The fresh fish will have a firmer structure after smoking. The ice crystals which form during freezing inflict damage to fish tissues as well as proteins and enzymes start reacting with meats. There are differences between home and commercial refrigerators and freezers:

Home Refrigerator Butcher's Cooler
36-40° F (2-4° C) 32° F (0° C)
Home Freezer Butcher's Freezer
0° F (-18° C) -25° F (-32° C)

During thawing there is a loss of meat juices, dissolved proteins, vitamins and minerals, especially when the freezing was slow. The resulting red liquid that we see on the plate during thawing meat is not blood, there may be some blood in it but the main portion constitute meat juice.

Product The maximum recommended times for freezing fish in months
0° F (-18° C) -22° F (-30° C)
Fat Fish 4 12
Lean Fish 8 24
Shrimp and Crab 6 15
Clams 4 12

Frozen fish loses weight as water evaporates through sublimation. What this means is that ice which is present in the surface area evaporates without going through the liquid phase. This problem, however, is of more importance for commercial producers as it results in a financial loss. Meat products stored in freezer will start developing inferior taste due to the oxidation of fat. Those chemical changes known as "rancidity" occur spontaneously and are triggered by light or oxygen. Meats stored in a freezer will turn rancid more slowly than meats stored in a refrigerator. Rancid meat is noticeable more with frozen meat than chilled meat because bacteria can spoil meat in a refrigerator well before rancidity begins. To prevent fat oxidation and to prolong shelf-life of the product, antioxidants such as BHA, BHT, TBHQ and rosemary extracts are commonly used. In the early days of industrial refrigeration the fish were often frozen in brine, however it contributed to faster oxidation of fats. Common vitamin C (ascorbic acid) slows down rancidity of fats. Adding 0.1% of orange essential oil will provide the same effect.

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