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The Ultimate Guide to Freezing and Thawing Fish

The short answer is yes, the FDA requires that fish to be eaten raw or undercooked must be frozen first to kill any parasites present. This applies to sushi, sashimi, ceviche and other raw preparations.

As your freeze-savvy fishing buddy, let me walk you through everything you need to know about properly freezing, storing, thawing, and refreezing fish so you can enjoy safe, high-quality seafood for months to come!

Why Freezing Fish is Non-Negotiable

I‘m a total data nerd, so let‘s look at some stats:

  • Over 90% of wild-caught saltwater fish contain parasites.
  • 70% of fish involved in foodborne illness outbreaks were contaminated with parasites.
  • Parasites can lead to symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, digestive issues.

The FDA requires commercially sold fish for raw consumption to be frozen solid at -4°F for 7 days or -31°F for 15 hours. This kills any parasites in the flesh.

As a general rule, I recommend freezing any fish you plan to eat raw or undercooked. Better safe than sorry! Proper freezing ensures we can enjoy our sushi and ceviche without worrying about nasty parasite-related side effects.

Mastering the Art of Freezing Fish

I‘ve tested every trick in the book to freeze fish at peak quality. Follow my tips and you‘ll have fresh-tasting fillets ready for your favorite recipes for months to come!

Prep Fish for Freezing

  • Clean, scale, and fillet fish right after catching or buying.
  • Remove bloodline, skin, and pin bones if desired.
  • Slice fish steaks 1-inch thick for quick freezing.
  • Cut fillets into 4-6 oz portions.

Getting fish prepped for the freezer quickly is key! The fresher the better.

Protect Fish from Freezer Burn

Nothing ruins a perfect piece of fish like freezer burn. Here are my best tips for prevention:

  • Remove air from freezer bags before sealing.
  • Wrap fish in plastic wrap or parchment paper.
  • Use flat containers to keep filets and steaks from curling.
  • Layer fish between sheets of freezer paper.

Taking the time to properly package fish pays off! I like to double wrap for extra protection.

Rapid Freeze Fish for Best Results

  • Freeze at 0°F or below.
  • Use a fast blast or flash freezer for 1-2 hours.
  • Avoid slow freezing in the main compartment.
  • Quickly freeze thin steaks, fillets and portions.

Quick freezing prevents large damaging ice crystals from forming. Maintaining ultra-cold temperatures also inhibits bacteria growth.

Label Frozen Fish Packages

My last step is labeling each package with:

  • Type of fish
  • Date frozen
  • Weight or portion
  • Raw or cooked
  • Any other important info!

This lets you easily identify items and keeps your freezer organized. Rotating out older fish ensures you use each piece at peak quality too.

Thawing Fish Safely

Improper thawing is one of the biggest mistakes people make that compromises both quality and safety. Use my preferred thawing methods:

Refrigerator Thawing

This is my #1 choice whenever possible! Simply place frozen fish on a rimmed plate or tray and thaw overnight on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Allow 12-24 hours depending on thickness.

Keeping fish chilled at 40°F inhibits bacterial growth. The texture also improves over other quick thawing methods.

Cold Water Thawing

Submerge a vacuum sealed bag of fish under cold running tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until thawed. Cook fish immediately after using this faster thawing method.

Microwave Thawing

Use the microwave defrost setting at 30% power in short 2-minute increments. Stop to check often; edges may begin to cook. Cook immediately after microwave thawing.

How Long Does Thawed Fish Last?

For best safety and quality, adhere to these time limits after fish has thawed:

  • Raw fish: 1-2 days in fridge
  • Cooked fish: 3-4 days in fridge
  • Opened canned fish: 3-4 days in fridge
  • Thawed shellfish: Use immediately

Discard any thawed fish that smells unpleasant or feels overly soft or slimy. Don‘t risk eating spoiled seafood! When in doubt, throw it out.

Can You Refreeze Thawed Fish?

The USDA states fish thawed correctly in the refrigerator at 40°F or less can safely be refrozen within 1-2 days.

I don‘t recommend refreezing fish thawed by other quicker methods. The texture really starts to deteriorate. I just cook any microwave or cold water thawed fish right away.

But high-quality fish thawed gradually in the fridge retains structure well when refrozen. Make sure it‘s tightly wrapped!

Storing Fish Safely

Getting fridge temperatures right is key for short-term fish storage:

  • Whole fish: Place on ice and store below 40°F
  • Fillets and steaks: Below 40°F on a tray
  • Cooked fish: Below 40°F for 3-4 days max
  • Raw shellfish: Below 40°F for 1-2 days max

I like to place fish on a bed of crushed ice to maintain a temperature closer to freezing. This helps extend shelf life.

Rinse fish just before use and pat dry. Look for dull, brownish areas and trim off any freezer burn before cooking or eating. Enjoy your thawed masterpieces!

Troubleshooting Freezer Burn & Rancid Fish

Nothing‘s worse than meat that‘s ruined after months in the freezer! Here are my tips if things go wrong:

Freezer Burn:

  • Trim affected parts before cooking.
  • Use in soups, chowders, casseroles.
  • Prevent it next time with better wrapping!

Rancid Fish:

  • Discard at first signs like sour smell, dull flesh.
  • Wipe down the contaminated area.
  • Try glazing fish with ice water before freezing.
  • Store fish towards the back of the freezer.

An ounce of prevention really pays off when freezing fish long-term!

The Bottom Line

There you have it, my complete guide to freezing and thawing fish like a pro! Here are the key takeaways:

  • Freeze any fish consumed raw or undercooked first.
  • Prep, package and rapidly freeze fish at peak freshness.
  • Thaw fish gradually in the fridge whenever possible.
  • Cook immediately if using quicker thaw methods.
  • Use thawed fish within 1-2 days and store below 40°F.
  • Refreeze only top quality fish thawed in the refrigerator.

Equipped with my freeze-savvy tips, you can enjoy fresh, high-quality fish for months after the catch! Let me know if you have any other fish freezing questions. I‘m always ready to chat about my favorite subject! Tight lines!