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Fish

Fish Preparation Guide

Thawing Fish

Frozen fish can be cooked without thawing but the cooking time would need to be increased to cook it thoroughly. If the fish is going to be breaded, stuffed, broiled, fried or cooked in the microwave, it should be thawed completely first. There are several methods that can be used for thawing fresh frozen fish. Fish should never be thawed out at room temperature because the warm temperatures would allow bacteria to grow. Use one of the methods described below.

Refrigerator – Thawing Time: 6 to 24 hours, depending on quantity. Generally, 6 to 8 hours per pound. (Recommended Method) Thawing fish in the refrigerator is the slowest but safest method you can use. The temperature of the refrigerator should be maintained at 35°F to 40°F to discourage growth of harmful organisms as the fish thaws.Thaw Fish Not Frozen in Ice: Leave the fish wrapped and place on a platter or a tray to catch the drippings as it thaws. Place in the refrigerator to thaw.

Thaw Fish Frozen in Block of Ice: Remove the fish from the wrapper and place under cold running water to remove the ice surrounding the fish. Once the fish is free of ice, separate the pieces and place on a platter or in pan lined with paper towels. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to finish thawing in the refrigerator.

Cold Water Thawing Time: 1 to 2 hour per pound Thawing the fish in cold water is a faster method than thawing in the refrigerator, but the proper precautions must be taken when using this thawing method. Fill the sink or a large bowl with enough cold tap water to cover the fish. Place the fish in a sealable bag and place the bag in the cold water. The water should be changed every 30 minutes. Do not use warm water, even though it will thaw the fish faster, it will also cause the growth of bacteria. Once the fish is thawed, it should be cooked immediately.If using the sink, do not use it for other purposes during thawing period and be sure the thawing water does not splash onto other preparation surfaces or food. Once the fish is thawed, remove it from the sink and clean all utensils and surfaces affected during the thawing period with hot water and soap.
Microwave See manual for defrosting times Thawing fish in a microwave is a quick method but is not recommended because of the difficulty in getting the different thicknesses to defrost evenly. Defrosting times vary according to different microwaves and according to the form of fish (whole or pieces) you are thawing. Use the steps below for thawing in the microwave:

  1. Place the fish on a microwave rack in a microwave safe pan. Place foil just on the tips of the pieces to protect from cooking.
  2. Microwave for 1/2 the defrosting time. See time chart below. Then turn the pieces over. Place on the rack so the thinnest sections are towards the middle and are overlapping each other. Remove foil from tips.
  3. Finish microwaving. Pieces should still be pliable and still cool to the touch. They may be slightly icy but they will finish thawing while they stand for 5 minutes.
Note – Microwaving with Aluminum Foil: Before using foil in the microwave oven, refer to the user manual for that oven to see what is recommended. Some models are manufactured so that the magnetron tube is protected, which allows small amounts of metal, such as aluminum foil and metal skewers to be used. Do not use foil if the manufacturer does not recommend use.Care must be taken when using foil in the microwave. Use only thin strips or small pieces that are just large enough to cover the areas that need protection from overcooking. The foil pieces must be kept at 1 inch from the oven walls and 1 inch from each other.

Note: If the individual fish pieces are frozen together, defrost in microwave just long enough to be able to separate the pieces and then follow directions above.

Defrosting Times Using Defrost Feature or at 50% Power Level
Fish Thickness Frozen-No Ice Glazed
Minutes per lb.
Whole-Small 1″ – 1 3/4″ 3 1/2 -6 1/2 4 – 6 1/2
Fillets 1/4″ – 1″ 3 – 5 3 1/2 – 5 1/2
Steaks 1″ 3 – 5 1/2 3 1/2 – 6

Other Thawing Guidelines

  • Never thaw fish at room temperature.
  • Thawed fish should be cooked as soon as possible. If not using immediately, store in the refrigerator and use within 24 hours of thawing.
  • Do not refreeze thawed fish.
  • It is safe to refreeze fish once it has been cooked but some of its quality will be lost.

Salmon Preparation for Grilling

Fillets and Steaks

  • Keep salmon refrigerated until ready to grill.
  • Keep salmon skin intact while grilling. The skin will prevent the salmon from curling up and flaking apart. The skin is easily removed after grilling.
  • Brush salmon and grill grate with a thin coat of cooking oil to prevent sticking on the grill. Oil the grill grate before starting the grill.
  • If using a grill basket, oil the basket as well.

Whole Fish

The directions below use herbs and lemon for flavoring but the seasoning can be varied according to your taste.

    1. Store the salmon on ice or in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
    2. Rinse the salmon inside and out under cool water to remove any stray scales or bones.
    3. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels.
    4. The body cavity of the fish can be filled with fresh herbs and lemon slices if desired.
    5. Close the body cavity of the fish and tie with butchers twine.
    6. Score 3 diagonal cuts on both sides of the fish.
    7. Brush the whole fish (including the head) and the grill grate with a thin coat of cooking oil to prevent the salmon from sticking. Oil the grill grate before starting the grill.
    8. If using a grill basket, oil the basket as well.

Preparation Tips:

  • Thaw frozen fish in milk to help remove the frozen taste and provide for a fresh fish flavor.
  • To remove pin bones from a fillet of fish, lay the fillet, bone side up, across an inverted mixing bowl. The curve of the bowl will cause the bones to stick out, making them easy to find. Use a needle-nose pliers to pull the bones out.
  • After cleaning fish or working with it on a cutting board, wash with hot soapy water and periodically cleaned with a bleach solution. Get rid of the fish smells by cutting a lemon or lime in half and rubbing the board down with it.

Fish Cooking Guide

  • Fish can be prepared using almost any type of cooking method including baking, steaming, frying, grilling, broiling, or slow cooking. When cooking fish, care must be taken not to overcook the fillet, steak, or whole fish, which results in dry and somewhat tasteless meat. A general rule is to cook a fish 10 minutes for each inch of thickness. The 10 minute rule should not be used for deep-frying or microwaving fish. The fish should be cooked until it has reached an internal temperature of at least 145ºF. Fish Cooking TimesFish cooking temperatures are important to monitor in order to insure meat is safely cooked to the proper temperature. When preparing fish, use the chart below as a guide to check doneness when the fish is oven baked, pan-fried, deep-fried, grilled, and steamed.
    FISH Cooking Temperatures and Times
    Baked Approximate Cooking Time
    Portion Temp. Weight / Thickness Total Time
    Whole 350°F 3-5 lbs 25-30 min
    Fillets 350°F 3-5 lbs 25-30 min
    Steaks 350°F 3-5 lbs 35-40 min
    Pan-Fried Turn Once
    Whole Med. 8-15 min
    Fillets Med. .75 in. 7-9 min
    Steaks Med. 1 in. 9-10 min
    Deep-Fried
    Whole 350°F 3-5 min
    Fillets 350°F .75 in. 3-5 min
    Steaks 350°F 1 in. 4-6 min
    Grilled – 4 in. from the Heat Source Turn Once
    Whole Med 10-20 min
    Fillets Med .75 in. 7-9 min
    Steaks Med 1 in. 9-10 min
    Steaming – Over Gently Boiling Water
    Whole 10-12 min
    Fillets .75 in. 10-12 min
    Steaks 1 in. 10-15 min
    Note: Cooking times are estimated times and will vary depending on the type and thickness of the fish. Fish is done when meat turns opaque white and has a flakey texture. Overcooking will cause the fish to be tough and lose flavor and moisture.

    Baking Fish

    Baking is a good method to use for cooking whole fish, stuffed or unstuffed, and large, thicker cuts. Baking can also be used for steaks and fillets. While baking, the fish should be basted to keep the meat moist.

    Preparation

    1. Keep the fish refrigerated until ready to cook.
    2. Rinse the fish thoroughly inside and out. Pat it dry with paper towels. When baking whole fish, the head can be left on if there is room in the baking pan.
    3. If stuffing a whole fish, add it to the cavity of the fish.
    4. Place the whole fish or pieces in an oiled baking pan. If baking oily fish, it should be placed on an oiled rack so it is not setting in the juices as it bakes.
    5. Baste the fish with a mixture of 1/2 cup of melted butter and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.
    6. Cover the pan with aluminum foil.
      Note: Whole large fish can be hard to place in and remove from the baking pan. To make this process easier, make a bed of aluminum foils to place the fish on before placing in the baking dish. Grease the foil and make it wide enough so that there is enough foil to grab when placing it in and removing it from the pan.
    Baking

    1. Place the covered baking pan in an oven preheated to 350°F.
    2. Bake for 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the quantity being cooked. See the chart above.
    3. Baste the fish with the butter/lemon mixture 2 or 3 times during the cooking time.
    4. Test the fish for doneness by inserting a fork into the thickest area for the fillets or steaks and in the backbone above the dorsal fin of whole fish. Twist the fork and the meat should flake easily and be opaque in appearance.
    5. To brown steaks and fillets, baste them with the pan juices and then place under the broiler for approximately a minute.
    6. Carefully remove the fish from the pan by using a spatula to lift the fish out. Place on a platter or plate for serving.
    7. Whole fish should have the skin and bones removed.

    Pan-frying Fish

    Pan-frying fish is a popular method of cooking fish. It works well with small whole fish, steaks and fillets. Lean fish are better pan-fried than oily fish because the oil helps keep them too moist. Oily fish are better cooked using a method that allows their natural fat to drain while cooking, such as broiling, grilling or steaming. Instructions for pan-frying whole and pieces of fish are shown below.

    Pan-frying Whole Fish

    Small fish that are less than 1 1/2 inches thick work well to panfry. If thicker than 1 1/2 inches they should be filleted before frying. Frying the fish in butter would give it the best flavor but butter burns too easily. To get the benefit of the butter flavor use half butter and half vegetable oil. Vegetable oil can also be used on its own if desired.

    Preparation

    1. Keep the fish refrigerated until ready to cook.
    2. When frying whole fish, the head is generally removed before cooking.
    3. Rinse the fish thoroughly inside and out. Pat it dry with paper towels.
    4. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Be sure oil is hot enough before beginning to fry the fish. A drop of water added to the oil should sizzle when the oil is heated properly.
    5. Dredge the fish in flour seasoned with salt and pepper to assist the browning process.
    Pan-frying

    1. Place the floured fish in the hot oil. Place only 2 or 3 fish in the pan at one time so that they are not crowded. Frying too many at one time cools the oil down too much, causing the fish to absorb more oil.
    2. Fry the fish for 5 to 8 minutes on the first side. Turn over and cook another 4 to 7 minutes. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fish.
    3. When the fish is done its skin should be browned and crisp. When inserting a fork in the backbone, the meat should flake and separate from the bone easily. The internal temperature of the fish should be 145°F.
    4. Remove from the pan and place on a paper towel lined platter so the grease can drain. If frying more fish, place the cooked fish in an oven preheated to 175°F to 200°F to keep them warm while more are cooking.
    5. Add more oil if cooking additional fish. Allow the oil to heat up properly before frying more fish.

    Pan-frying Steaks and Fillets

    Fish steaks or fillets should not be thicker than 1 1/2 inches. Slice any pieces over 1 1/2 inches thick into thinner fillets. When frying, cook pieces with similar thickness together so that they cook evenly.

    Preparation

    1. Keep the fish refrigerated until ready to cook.
    2. If necessary, slice thick cuts into thinner pieces. Cut fillets into even serving size pieces.
    3. Rinse the fish thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.
    4. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Be sure oil is hot enough before beginning to fry the fish. A drop of water added to the oil should sizzle when the oil is heated properly.
    5. Dredge the fish in seasoned flour or a crumb coating to assist the browning process. See crumb coating below.

    Crumb Coating:

    1. Moisten pieces in a mixture of one beaten egg and one tablespoon of water. Double these ingredients if frying a larger quantity of fish.
    2. Dip egg coated pieces in seasoned crumb mixture. Use flour, bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, or crushed cornflakes for the crumbs and season with salt and pepper.
    Pan-frying

    1. Place the coated fish in the hot oil. Place only a few pieces of fish in the pan at one time so that they are not crowded. Frying too many at one time cools the oil down too much, causing the fish to absorb more oil. Fry consistent size pieces together so they cook evenly.
    2. Fry the fish for 3 to 5 minutes on the first side. Turn over and cook another 2 to 5 minutes. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fish.
    3. When the fish is done its crumb coating should be browned and crisp. When inserting a fork in the fish, the meat should be flakey and opaque in appearance. The meat should be moist but not watery. The internal temperature of the fish should be 145°F.
    4. Remove from the pan and place on a paper towel lined platter so the grease can drain. If frying more fish, place the cooked fish in an oven preheated to 175°F to 200°F to keep them warm while more are cooking.
    5. Add more oil and allow the oil to heat up properly before frying more fish.

    Deep-Frying Fish

    Deep-frying, also known as deep-fat frying, is a process of immersing food in a pan containing hot oil, which cooks the food quickly, producing a crispy surface covering a tender and moist interior. For the best results as well as for ease in handling, it is best to use small pieces of fish when deep-frying. Fish is often covered with flour and seasonings or some type of batter before deep-frying, which provides a crispy, brown crust on the food.

    Any cooking oil can be used for deep-frying provided it does not smoke or burn at temperatures that may reach as high as 375°F. See Oil Smoke Points to assist in selecting oil for deep-frying. Oil low in saturated fat is best to use because the fish will absorb a small quantity of oil during the cooking process. See Fat Composition of Various Oils to assist in selecting oil low in saturated fat.

    Checking the Temperature of the Oil
    • A temperature between 350°F and 375°F is an ideal range for deep-frying. The correct temperature can be determined with the use of a candy thermometer.
    • Another method that can be used is to place a cube of bread into the oil and if it browns in 45 to 50 seconds, the oil is at the correct temperature.
    Deep-frying

    1. Carefully place the pieces of fish into the hot oil using tongs to handle the fish. Add three to four pieces to the oil, making sure not to overcrowd then in the pan. The number of pieces cooked at a time will depend on their size.
    2. Cook the fish according to the cooking times shown above for deep-frying fish. The fish should be golden brown when down.
    3. Remove from the oil and place on a platter lined with paper towels to allow excess grease to drain from the fish. Serve while hot.

    If cooking a large amount, the fish can be placed on a baking sheet and placed in an oven preheated to 175°F to 200°F to keep them warm while more are cooking.

    Grilling and Broiling Fish

    Grilling | Broiling

    Grilling and broiling are very similar methods of cooking fish. They both use a dry heat that quickly cooks the surface and then slowly moves to the middle of the meat. The main difference between the two methods is that grilling applies the heat to the bottom surface of the fish, and broiling applies the heat to the top surface. Also, grilling infuses the fish with a smoky flavor from the meat juices that drip during the grilling process. When broiling, this infusion of flavor does not occur.

    Grilling

    Indirect Heat | Direct Heat

    The grilling process cooks foods over a heat source, either directly, indirectly, or a combination of both. Grilling temperatures typically reach as high as 650ºF, but any temperature above 300°F is suitable as a grilling temperature. The high heat of grilling sears the surface of fish, creating meat with a flavorful crust. The required cooking temperature and the method of grilling (direct, indirect, or a combination) depends on the size of the fish or the pieces. It is important to cook the fish to its proper doneness but not to overcook.

    There are many different types of grills available today that can be used when grilling fish. . It is important that the grill is set up properly and reaches the appropriate temperature for the type of fish that is being grilled to ensure that it produces a moist and flaky finished product that is cooked to the proper doneness.

    A medium heat should be used when grilling fish, whole or pieces. Using too high of a heat will cause some parts to cook too quickly and dry out while other parts will not be done all the way through.  The thicker the piece of fish the farther away from the heat source it should be or the heat source should be at a lower temperature to prevent the outside of the cut from burning before the inside is properly cooked. You will also have to decide whether you will use direct or indirect heat during the grilling time. Depending on the type of fish and size, you may use both. A whole fish or a thick piece may require direct heat to seal the outside and indirect to allow the cut to cook thoroughly to the center.

    Indirect Heat

    Cooking with indirect heat occurs when you use an area of the grill that is not directly over the heat source. Using indirect heat slows the cooking process down, which allows the center of the fish to cook thoroughly without burning the outside. On charcoal grills, coals are pushed to one side of the grill or banked into a ring around the outer edges. On gas grills, the side of the burner, which is below the area where the food will be placed, is turned off after the grill is preheated. Using one of the indirect setups will provide an area on the grill that is a low heat source. The fish is placed over the area in which there are no coals or over the burner that is turned off on a gas grill. Indirect heat is good for cooking whole fish or larger pieces.

    See general instructions below for cooking fish using indirect heat.

    Preparation

    1. Keep the fish refrigerated until ready to grill.
    2. If skin has not been removed, keep it intact while grilling. The skin will prevent the fish from curling up and flaking apart. The skin is easily removed after grilling.
    3. Rinse the fish thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.
    4. If preparing a whole fish, rinse the fish inside and out. Pat dry with paper towels and stitch cavity shut with butcher’s twine. Cut 3 diagonal slits on each side of the fish.
    5. Brush the fish and grill grate with a thin coat of cooking oil to prevent sticking on the grill. Oil the grill grate before starting the grill.
    6. If a grill basket is used to hold the fish, be sure to oil that also.
    CookingUse the indirect grilling method with a medium hot grill when cooking whole fish and thick fillets or steaks.
    1. Place the fish skin side up on the grill grate over indirect heat area. Do not place directly over the heat source.
    2. Cook the fish for 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Turn to grill on the other side for approximately half way through time.
    3. Insert the tip of a knife in thickest area of the fish to check for doneness. The meat should be flakey and opaque in appearance. The internal temperature of the fish should be at least 145°F.

    Direct Heat:

    Cooking with direct heat occurs when you cook the meat directly over the heat source. The fish is cooked quickly over medium or high heat coals or over burners set to medium or high heat on a gas grill. Direct heat is used when grilling thinner fillets and steaks. Thin fish will cook quickly when grilled using direct heat. Because they are thin, the direct heat will cook them thoroughly through to the middle.

    Preparation

    1. Keep the fish refrigerated until ready to grill.
    2. If skin has not been removed, keep it intact while grilling. The skin will prevent the fish from curling up and flaking apart. The skin is easily removed after grilling.
    3. Rinse the fish thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.
    4. Brush the fish and grill grate with a thin coat of cooking oil to prevent sticking on the grill. Oil the grill grate before starting the grill.
    5. If a grill basket is used to hold the fish, be sure to oil that also.
    CookingUse the direct grilling method with a medium hot grill when cooking thinner fillets and pieces of fish.

    1. Place the fish skin side up on the grill grate over the direct heat source.
    2. Cook the fish for 4 to 6 minutes and then turn to grill on the other side for approximately same amount of time.
    3. Insert the tip of a knife in thickest area of the fish to check for doneness. The meat should be flakey and opaque in appearance. The internal temperature of the fish should be at least 145°F.

    Broiling

    When broiling fish, there is no benefit from the infusion of smoked flavoring that occurs when grilling, causing the fish to be fairly bland in taste. This can be remedied by the use of seasoning, such as a mixture of herbs, marinades or basting sauces.

    Preparation

    1. Wash whole fish thoroughly and pat dry. Whole fish should be no more than 2 inches thick. If cooking fillets or steaks, rinse thoroughly, pat dry with paper towels and cut into serving size pieces.
    2. Brush the fish and the broiling pan with oil to prevent sticking.
    3. Place fish on broiler rack skin side down. Do not line the broiler rack with aluminum foil because it will prevent the drippings from falling into the pan below and the drippings that remain on the foil may cause flare-ups to occur.
    4. As with grilling, the distance from the heat source is important for producing fish that is golden brown, moist, flakey, and thoroughly cooked but not overcooked. To check for proper cooking distance for broiling, place the fish on the broiler rack and place the rack on the broiler pan. Set the broiler pan in the oven and measure the distance from the heat source in the oven to the top of the fish. It should be about 4 inches away for most fish and about 5 inches away for thin fillets and whole fish, adjust oven racks accordingly.
    Cooking

    1. Preheat the broiler for 9 or 10 minutes.
    2. Place the broiler rack in the oven to begin broiling. As with grilling, it is necessary to watch the fish carefully as it cooks, making sure the edges are not cooking too fast and if they are, rearrange the pieces or adjust the heat accordingly.
    3. Cook whole fish and 1″ thick steaks for approximately 5 minutes per side and fillets for approximately 3 minutes per side. Cooking time will vary with the thickness of the fish. Watch fish closely as it is cooking, especially very thin fillets so that it does not overcook.
    4. Baste at least one time while cooking on the first side. Oil or melted butter (or margarine) can be used for basting or a little lemon can be added to the butter for extra flavor.
    5. Carefully turn the fish to finish cooking. Baste at least once while cooking on second side.
    6. When grilling or broiling, all the pieces will not cook at the same rate so it is necessary to remove them as they finish cooking to avoid overcooking.
    7. Insert the tip of a knife in thickest area of the fish to check for doneness. The meat should be flakey and opaque in appearance. The internal temperature of the fish should be at least 145°F.

    Checking Doneness

    There are several methods that can be used to check for the doneness of fish. Some methods work better on some types of fish than others. Similar to meat, fish continues to cook after removing it from the heat. So for a more flavorful result, begin checking for doneness a few minutes before the end of the estimated cooking time. Since the meat of the fish is somewhat translucent, it begins to become opaque as it cooks, which is one method of visually checking for doneness, especially for fillets that are most often not as thick as fish steaks.

    The best procedure for checking doneness is to use a cooking thermometer, checking to make sure the fish has reached an internal temperature of 145ºF. To cook fish steaks that are slightly translucent in the center, remove the steaks from the heat when they reach an internal temperature of 135ºF to 140ºF. The fish steaks will continue cooking with the retained heat if they are covered and left to stand a few minutes prior to serving.

    Listed below are other methods that can be used to check for doneness.

    • To check the fish for doneness, use the tip of a sharp knife and cut through the thickest part of the fillet. If the fish has been properly cooked, the meat will appear opaque but will still be moist. Some varieties of fish contain more fat, such as salmon or tuna, which can be cooked until opaque on the outside while remaining somewhat translucent on the inside.
    • Another test to use for doneness is to check the meat with a knife to see if it is firm and beginning to separate or “flake”. If the fish flakes too easily, it may be overcooked. The meat should slightly resist separating, but still be able to be separated, thus indicating it is moist and not too dry.
    • When cooking fish that has not been boned, such as trout or pan fish, the meat should not drop off the bones, but instead should slightly resist removal.

    Cooking Tips:

    • Rub lemon juice on fish before cooking. This will help the fish maintain its color and add to its flavor.
    • Flour is often used as a coating for foods that are fried. Pieces of fish are often pan-fried with a flour coating, which develops a crisp, flavorful crust, and an interior that is tender flaky.
    • Fish that is less than 1/2 inch thick do not require turning when cooking.
    • Increase cooking time when cooking fish that is frozen.
    • For moister broiled fish, first steam or poach the fish until close to being done and then brown it under the broiler.
    • It is best to grill, broil, steam or poach oily fish so that their natural fats can drain while they are cooked.

Fish Handling, Safety & Storage

  • When working with fish it is essential that proper handling and storage are used to reduce the risk of food-borne illness and ensure a quality product. You cannot see the harmful bacteria on the fish so you must handle it as if it is present. Salmonella and E. coli are bacteria that can cause food-borne illness and are sometimes found on fish. Follow the guidelines below to ensure safety against food-borne illnesses when handling fish. Contamination PreventionCleanliness: A clean working environment is essential in the prevention of contamination when working with fish. Be sure to wash hands thoroughly before and after handling raw fish. The work area, cutting boards, and utensils must be thoroughly cleaned with hot soapy water after being exposed and should not be used for other foods until properly cleaned. This will prevent cross contamination of bacteria from the fish to other foods.

    When working with other foods at the same time as preparing and cooking fish, be sure to use different utensils for each food. Do not use the same platter for cooked fish as was used for the raw meat, unless it has been properly washed and dried before using. If any preparation of the fish is done on a cutting board, it should be thoroughly scrubbed with hot soapy water after each use and periodically cleaned with a bleach solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water.

    Handling Market Fish: Fresh or frozen fish should be purchased just before leaving the market so it is exposed to unsafe temperatures for as short a time as possible. It should be placed in a plastic bag to prevent any leakage from contaminating any other foods. Bring a cooler along to store the fish in while traveling home or pack the fish in ice. To maintain the quality of the fish, it needs to be kept at a temperature under 40°F. Do not allow the fish to set in a hot vehicle for any length of time unless stored properly. After purchasing it should be taken home and refrigerated as soon as possible.

    When cooking and serving fish, the meat must be handled properly to prevent contamination. Use a different platter and cooking utensils for cooked fish than what was used for the raw fish, unless they have been properly cleaned and dried after exposure to the raw fish. Be sure the raw fish does not come in contact with foods that have already been cooked or foods that do not require cooking before being consumed, such as raw vegetables and fruit.

    If taking cooked fish to be served at another location, be sure to pack the fish so it maintains the proper temperatures. If you are keeping it hot, it should maintain at least a 140°F temperature and if it is cold, it must be kept at or below 40°F.

    Handling Fisherman’s Catch: Keeping your daily catch safe from bacteria can be a challenge unless you are ice fishing. See the tips below for warm weather fish handling.

    • Try to keep the fish alive until done fishing and ready to take them in to clean and store properly.
    • If the fish cannot be kept alive, be sure to store them at a temperature below 40°F. Storing them in a cooler with plenty of ice will keep them cold you are ready to clean and store properly.
    • When cleaning the fish, be careful not to contaminate the meat when removing the stomach and intestine contents. If the meat does become contaminated, wash it immediately with cold water.
    • After cleaning, ice the fish down or keep cold (under 40°F) until you are ready to prepare it.
    • When cooking the fish, be sure it is cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F.

    Cooking Safety

    It is necessary to cook the fish completely to eliminate the chance of food borne illness. The safest manner in which to check for doneness is to check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer in several locations. Internal temperature should be a minimum of 145°F when checked in the center of the thickest area of the fish. If a meat thermometer is not available, check for doneness by using a fork to check if the fish flakes easily and to see if its appearance is opaque and not translucent and raw looking.

    Deep-Frying Safety

    Deep-frying, also known as deep-fat frying, is a popular cooking method used for fish. It is a process of immersing food in a pan containing hot oil, which cooks the food quickly, producing a crispy surface covering a tender and moist interior. Because of the large quantity of hot oil that is used for deep-frying fish, there are some safety concerns that must be considered when using this cooking method. The safety concerns are listed below.

    • For ease in handling and to prevent splashing of the oil when the fish is placed in the hot oil, it is best to use small pieces of fish.
    • Any utensils and equipment that come into contact with the hot oil must be thoroughly dried first. Moisture on the utensils will cause splattering, which can be dangerous.
    • The fish should also be free of moisture to minimize splattering when the fish is immersed into the hot oil.
    • If cooking commercial frozen fish that is to be immersed in the oil while it is still frozen, be sure that the fish is free of ice crystals.
    Note: If the hot oil comes in contact with moisture it causes splattering of the oil. If an excess of moisture comes in contact with the hot oil it can cause major splattering and foaming of the oil, causing it to flow over the edges of the pan. Controlling the moisture contact with the oil is extremely important.
    • The hot oil should not be left unattended and children and pets should NEVER be allowed near the cooking area.
    • After the cooking is completed, the oil should not be transferred to another container or disposed of until it has completely cooled. It is extremely dangerous to pour the hot oil from the cooking vessel.
    • A fire extinguisher and heavy potholders should always be within reach.

    Checking the Temperature of the Oil: A temperature between 350°F and 375°F is an ideal range for deep-frying. The correct temperature can be determined with the use of a candy thermometer. Another method that can be used is to place a cube of bread into the oil and if it browns in 45 to 50 seconds, the oil is at the correct temperature. The oil should not need to reach over 375°F to fry the fish. Oil above this temperature will brown the fish too quickly, not allowing it to cook properly all the way through. The undercooked fish poses a safety concerns.

    Any cooking oil can be used for deep-frying provided it does not smoke or burn at temperatures that may reach as high as 375°F. For a healthier choice, oil low in saturated fat is best to use because the food will absorb a small quantity of oil during the cooking process.

    Proper Storage

    Refrigerating | Freezing | Super-Chilling | Freezing Tips

    Properly preparing fresh fish for storage will allow it to be stored for a longer period of time and maintain its quality. Fresh caught fish should be gutted and cleaned as soon as possible and then stored at the proper temperature until ready to cook. For the best flavor and quality, fish should be prepared for eating within 24 hours of catching but if stored properly it is safe to keep refrigerated for 2 to 3 days.

    Fresh caught or market fresh fish should be stored at a temperature 40°F or below and cooked fish should be kept at a temperature 140°F or higher to keep it outside of the temperature zone in which bacteria, that causes food borne illness, grows quickly. The danger temperature zone is a range between 40°F and 140°F. Raw fish can be stored in a refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Leftover cooked fish can be stored for up to 3 or 4 days. If raw or cooked fish is not going to be used within the recommended time, it should be frozen to prevent it from perishing.

    Refrigerating

    Raw fish can be stored safely in a refrigerator at 40°F or lower for 2 to 3 days. Oily fish will store longer than lean fish and whole fish will store better than steaks and fillets. There are several factors listed below that will have an affect on how well the fish will store.

    • The amount of time that market fresh fish can be refrigerated will depend on:
      • If it was stored properly after it was caught, before it got to the market.
      • How fresh the fish was when purchased.
      • Whether or not the fish was stored properly on ice at the market.
      • The temperatures it is exposed to in transporting from the store to home refrigeration.
      • The type of packaging used.
    • The amount of time that fresh caught fish can be refrigerated will depend on:
      • How the fish was handled after being caught.
      • How long it was kept alive.
      • Whether or not it was bruised from flopping around on the bottom of the boat or on the dock.
      • If there was any damage done to its skin.
      • How soon it was cleaned and if it was cleaned properly.

    Follow the instructions below to store fresh fish in the refrigerator properly.

    1. Remove the fish from the wrapper. Thoroughly rinse the fish in cold water.
    2. Pat it dry with a paper towel.
    3. Line a plate or pan with a double layer of paper towels and place the fish on the towels.
    4. Cover them tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and place in the coldest part of the refrigerator, the top shelf in the back.
    5. Be sure the fish is tightly wrapped so that if there are any juices from the raw fish, they will not come in contact with any other food.

    Cooked Fish Leftovers: Cooked leftovers should be cooled and refrigerated as soon as possible, limiting the amount of time the fish is exposed to room temperatures. Never leave the fish at room temperature for more than two hours. Store it in a shallow covered container to allow the fish to cool to the proper temperature more quickly. Cooked fish can be stored for up to 2 to 3 days in a refrigerator at 40°F or less. If leftovers are not going to be used within this time, they can be frozen and stored for up to one month.

    Freezing

    Fresh fish can be stored at 40°F or less for 2 to 3 days but if it is not going to be used within that time, it should be frozen to prevent it from perishing. Freeze the fish while it is as fresh as possible. Proper handling of the fish is also necessary to produce a quality frozen product. The same factors stated above will have an affect on the quality of the fish when it is frozen. Be sure the fish has been cleaned properly before freezing. There are several methods that can be used for freezing fish. The method you select may depend on if you are freezing whole fish, large cuts, steaks or fillets. Also, take into consideration how much freezer storage room you have available. Fish should be frozen in a freezer at 0°F or less. Several methods are shown below.

    Double Wrapping: This method works well on smaller whole fish, steaks and fillets. It saves freezer storage space and the individual pieces thaw easier when you are ready to use them.

    1. Wrap the fish individually in plastic wrap. Wrap as tightly as possible.
    2. Wrap tightly again with another layer of wrap.
    3. Place the individually wrapped pieces into a sealable freezer bag or wrap tightly in aluminum foil. If using a bag, be sure to press out excess air from the bag.
    4. Do not package more that one pound in each bag. This will allow the fish to freeze more quickly.
    5. When placing in the freezer, do not stack a lot of packages together in one area. Try to spread them out in the freezer so they will freeze quicker. Once they are frozen, they can be stacked neatly on top of each other.

    Freezing in a Block of Ice: This method works well for smaller pieces, such as steaks and fillets. Freezing in a block of ice protects the fish from being exposed to any air because the air cannot penetrate through the ice. This guards the fish against freezer burn. This method requires more room in the freezer for storage and is a little more work when it comes to thawing the fish.

    1. Select a container for freezing the fish in ice, such as paper milk cartons, small baking pans, loaf pans, or plastic storage containers. Select a container that would hold only enough for one meal. Do not use too large of a container because it will take too long to freeze and it will be harder to find room in the freezer.
    2. Cut fish into serving size pieces.
    3. Place the fish in the container, leaving an inch or more of headspace for expansion during the freezing process.
    4. Cover the fish with cold water.
    5. Place in the freezer so that the container sits level. Allow the water to freeze in a solid block.
    6. If the fish have floated to the top so they are not completely covered with ice, remove the container and add a layer of water to the top so the fish is completely covered and return to the freezer until the additional water is frozen.
    7. If the fish was frozen in a pan, run a little cold water on the bottom of the pan and pop the block of ice out.
    8. Wrap the block of ice with a double layer of plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
    9. Place the wrapped block in a sealable freezer bag. Remove excess air and seal. The wrapped block could also be wrapped in freezer paper rather than placed in a freezer bag.
    10. If a milk carton was used, cover tightly with aluminum foil. If a plastic container was use, place the cover on and seal tightly.
    11. Place the fish back into the freezer as soon as possible.

    Glazing: This method works well for whole fish or large cuts. Glazing seals the fish with a thick layer of ice to protect it from exposure to air. Once the fish have been glazed they will require less freezer space.

    1. Lay the fish out on a baking sheet in a single layer without wrapping.
    2. Place in the freezer until frozen.
    3. Remove the fish from the freezer and dip each individual fish into a bowl of ice water.
    4. Place back on the baking sheet and freeze again.
    5. Repeat this process until the fish has an ice coating built up to at least 1/8 inch thick.
    6. Place the glazed fish into an airtight freezer bag or container.
    7. Place back in the freezer as soon as possible.
    8. Periodically check the glazing on the fish. A layer of glaze may have to be repeated if stored for an extended period of time.

    When using any of the freezing methods, be sure to mark the packages with contents and the date so you can be certain of how long it has been stored in the freezer and what it contains.

    Be sure all wrapped packages are sealed tightly and any fish frozen in ice is completely covered with ice to prevent ice crystals from forming on the fish. Ice crystals form because moisture has been drawn out of the fish, causing it to become freezer burned. Freezer burned areas of the fish become distasteful and tough or dried out. Store bought frozen fish should be left in the original package and place in the freezer as soon as possible. For extra protection place the store bought package in a freezer bag before placing in the freezer.

    Freezing Cooked Fish Leftovers: If you have cooked fish leftovers that are not going to be eaten within 2 or 3 days, you can freeze them for extended storage. Place the cooked fish in shallow covered container to allow the fish to freeze more quickly. Cooked fish can be stored in the freezer for up to one month.

    It is always best to freeze and store frozen food in a freezer unit, rather than a refrigerator freezer. The freezer units will maintain a temperature of 0°F or below, which will allow food to be stored for longer periods of time. A refrigerator freezer will generally only maintain a temperature of 10°F to 25°F and is opened more often, which causes fluctuation in temperature. If fish is stored in a refrigerator freezer, it should be used within one to two months. The chart below shows storage times for fish when stored in a refrigerator or freezer.

    Storage Times (Suggested times for maximum quality)
    Refrigerator (40°F) Freezer (0°F)
    Fresh Oily Fish – Whole Fish Two to three days 1 1/2 to 2 months
    Fresh Oily Fish – Steaks & Fillets Two to three days 1 to 1 1/2 months
    Fresh Lean Fish – Whole Fish Two to three days 4 to 6 months
    Fresh Lean Fish – Steaks & Fillets Two to three days 3 to 4 months
    Store Packaged Frozen Fish Use within 24 hours of thawing 3 to 6 months
    Cooked Fish Two to three days One month
    Note: If storing longer than the storage times shown above, the quality may be affected.

    Super-Chilling Fish

    Super-Chilling fish is a good method of storing fish that needs to be transported a distance when freezing capabilities are not available. If stored properly, fish can be kept fresh for up to 6 or 7 days. See instructions below for super-chilling.

    1. Clean fish properly and leave whole.
    2. Wrap the fish tightly with two layers of plastic wrap or with aluminum foil.
    3. Mix 1 pound of rock salt with 20 pounds of crushed ice. If storing a small quantity of fish the amount of salt and ice can be reduced proportionately.
    4. Add a 4 inch layer of plain crushed ice on the bottom of the cooler.
    5. Place a layer of the wrapped fish on top of the ice layer.
    6. Add another layer of the ice mixture on top of the fish.
    7. Repeat these layers until all the fish are covered.
    8. Be sure to have a thick layer of the ice mixture on top when finished.
    9. Place the cover tightly on the cooler.
    10. Occasionally check the level of ice mixture. More may need to be added as the ice melts.
    11. If transporting the cool in a manner that the water can drain from the cooler, leave the drain open. If not, you may have to stop occasionally to remove the cooler and allow the water to drain. Replenish ice mixture if necessary.
    12. This method will keep the fish chilled at a cooler temperature than if refrigerated.

    Storage Tips:

    • Be sure fish is cleaned properly before storing.
    • When storing in a refrigerator, be sure the temperature is 40°F or less.
    • Do not allow cooked fish to sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
    • DO NOT REFREEZE FISH THAT HAS BEEN THAWED.
    • Be sure all packages are marked with the content and the date it was frozen.
    • Wrapping individual pieces of fish in plastic wrap or foil and then placing in a freezer bag will allow you to take out only the number servings you need to prepare.
    • Freeze fresh fish as soon as possible to maintain the best quality.
    • Store frozen fish in a freezer unit to obtain maximum storage time.
    • Thaw frozen fish in the refrigerator or in cold water, changing every 30 minutes. NEVER thaw fish at room temperature.

    Fish Consumption Safety

    Today there is considerable concern regarding the PCB and mercury levels of the water in which the fish live, thus raising the PCB and mercury levels found in the meat of the fish. Consequently, fish are beginning to be listed into groups of species that should be consumed and species that should be avoided. It is generally agreed that most farm-raised varieties of fish are safe to eat (farm raised salmon are an exception because they typically require significant amounts of mackerel, herring, and other fish as feed, however, if the source is dependable and uses environmentally sound practices, then farm raised salmon can be considered safe to consume).

    The charts below list the fish varieties harvested in their natural habitat that are considered safe and those that are questionable or known to be unsafe.

    Fish Varieties Considered Safe
    Catfish Ocean Perch Shrimp
    Crab Oysters Striped Bass
    Flounder/Sole Rainbow Trout Tilapia
    Haddock Salmon – from Alaska Trout – Farmed
    Halibut from the Pacific Sardines Tuna – Big-Eye
    Herring Scallops Tuna – Yellowfin
    Lobster

     

    Fish Varieties Considered Questionable
    Cod – Pacific Orange Roughy Shark
    Flounder – Atlantic Salmon – Atlantic Snapper
    Grouper Salmon – Farmed Sturgeon
    Monkfish Sea Bass – Chilean Tuna – Bluefin
    Fish Varieties Known to be Unsafe
    King Mackerel Swordfish Tuna – Fresh Sardines
    Shark Tilefish

    Mercury affects the development of cognitive, motor, and sensory functions in the brain. It is especially harmful to unborn children and young children. The more mercury a person takes in its body and the longer the exposure time to the mercury, the more serious the affects can be. This is why unborn children and young children run more of a risk. The FDA advises that young children, pregnant women, women of childbearing age who may become pregnant, and nursing mothers should not consume fish that are known to have high levels of mercury. The FDA suggest that the pregnant women and nursing mothers also limit the amount of low mercury level fish to 12 ounces per week. The EPA suggests even a more strict limit on low mercury level fish, which is 8 ounces of uncooked (6 ounces cooked) fish one time per week and only 3 ounces of uncooked (2 ounces cooked) fish one time per week for young children. Men and women outside of this group should also limit the amount of fish with high levels of mercury to occasional consumption. Variables such as, the ability of a persons body to tolerate mercury, the level of mercury in the fish, how much fish is consumed, and the body weight of the person consuming the fish will all have an affect on the risks of the mercury consumption.

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