Preserving Fish For Long-term Survival

Preserving fish for long-term survivalLiving in a world where supermarkets are out of business is certainly no easy task. In order to survive in such world, you will be forced to hunt or fish for your food. Fishing for long-term sustenance requires for you to know various methods of preserving fish.

Of all flesh foods, fish is the most susceptible to tissue decomposition, rancidity and microbial spoilage. To prevent your fish from going bad there are some popular solutions that people have been using with great success. Preserving fish can be done through freezing, canning, pickling and smoking.

Before you start preserving fish, there are some rules you should acknowledge:

  • Top quality fresh fish is essential for these food preservation methods
  • Freshly caught fish should be kept alive as long as possible
  • Clean the fish as soon as possible to delay spoilage
  • Always keep a good hygiene in your working area

Below you can find a few tips for each fish preservation method.

Preserving fish – Freezing

As long as you have a source of power, this becomes the simplest and most convenient method to preserve your catch. It is probably the most used method today to store fish for months or years. To freeze the fish you need to carefully handle it, wrap it in airtight material and keep it at 0° F or lower.

How to freeze fish:

3 pioneer survival lessonsRemove the guts and thoroughly clean the fish. Prepare the fish as you would for table use. Cut large fish into stakes or fillets. The smaller fish can be frozen whole.  Wrap the fish in plastic wrap and separate layers of fish with packaging material for easier thawing. Always store at 0° F or lower. Small fish (pan fish) can be frozen in ice. Place the fish in a shallow pan or water tight container, cover with cold water and place in the freezer until frozen. Remove the block from the container, wrap it and store the fish in the freezer.

The storage life of frozen fish stored at proper temperatures:

  • Northern pike, smelt and lake trout – six months
  • Bluegills, sunfish, bass and crappies – nine months
  • Walleys and yellow perch – nine months or more

Related article: Improvised Fishing Techniques for tough times


 Preserving fish – Canning

Since fish is a low acid food, it can be processed safely only in temperatures reached in steam pressure canners. Failure to heat process fish at 240° F or higher may allow bacteria to survive, germinate and grow. If you do not can the fish properly you can cause botulism, a deadly food poisoning.

Use standard heat-tempered canning jars. The processing times mentioned in this section are for 1-pint containers. Avoid using quart jars because of slower heat penetration. The general USDA method for canning fish without sauce includes salmon, trout, blue mackerel and other fatty fish except tuna.

How to can fish:

Clean and gut the fish within two hours after catching. Keep all the fish you cleaned on ice until you are ready to can. Remove the head, tail, fins and scales and wash it thoroughly. The washing process needs to remove all the blood. You can split fish lengthwise if you desire. Cut the cleaned fish into 3 ½ lengths. Fill the jars, skin side next to glass leaving one inch headspace. Add one teaspoon of salt per pint. Do not add liquids. Adjust the lids and process.

The processing should be as follows: 100 minutes at 11 PSI for dial-gauge pressure canners and 100 minutes at 15 PSI for weighed-gauge pressure canners. Remove jars from your canner and place them upright on a dry surface. Heat the fish to boiling temperatures for 10 minutes before tasting.

Preserving fish – Pickling

This method was often used by my mother when having a surplus of fish. The trick here is to refrigerate the fish during all stages of the pickling process. For this process to work you need the following ingredients:

  • Fresh, quality fish
  • Water
  • Vinegar, preferably white distilled vinegar with an acetic content of at least 4%
  • Salt, preferably canning or pickling salt
  • Spices

How to pickle fish:

As a general method, soak the fish in weak brine (1 cup salt to 1 gallon of water) for one hour. Drain the fish and pack in glass or plastic container, in strong brine (2 ½ cups salt to 1 gallon of water). Keep the container for up to 12 hours in the refrigerator. Rinse the fish in cold water.

Combine the following ingredients in a large pan: ¼ oz. bay leaves, 2 Tbsp allspice, 2 Tbsp mustard seed, 1 Tbsp whole cloves, 1 Tbsp ground pepper, ½ Tbsp ground chili pepper, 2qt. distilled vinegar and 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, add the fish and simmer for 10 minutes. Let it simmer until the fish is easily pierced with a fork. Remove the fish from liquid and place on a flat pan. Refrigerate and cool quickly to avoid spoilage. Pack the cold fish in glass jars and add the few whole spices, a bay leaf and slice of lemon. Strain the vinegar solution, bring to a boil and pour into jars. Pour enough vinegar until the fish is completely covered. Seal the jars immediately.

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Preserving fish – Smoking

This is one of the oldest methods of food preservation we know of. The first settlers were preserving fish using the smoking process since refrigeration wasn’t available. The steps in the smoking process are effective for safe preservation, but it also produce good flavor and aroma. Carp, salmon, trout and chubs are successfully smoked and you should try it. For the method to work, you need to use the correct amount of salt in the brine. Use enough brine for a given amount of fish. Keep the smoking temperature no higher than 40° F and never mix different kinds of fish. The smoking chamber needs to maintain uniform heat and the fish flesh needs to be maintained at 180° F for the entire smoking time.


Recommended article: Smoking meat for long-term storage – Smoking secrets


How to smoke fish:

Always use freshly caught fish, filleted or whole. Wash the fish and use a brine solution before the smoking. For the weak brine use 1 ½ cup of salt to 1 gallon of water and keep in the refrigerator. Remove the fish and place it in stronger brine. Use 4 cups of salt to 1 gallon of cold water and keep it for 15 minutes. Remove from brine and rinse. Put the fish in the smoker when air temperature is 100°F. Use food thermometers to measure the air and flesh temperature. The air temperature in the smoker should rise to 225 F and the fish flesh should reach 180 F. Keep in there for 30 minutes. Smoked fish can be packed in airtight containers and kept up to 6 months in a dry, cool place.

Preserving fish using the above method is not complicated and it’s a good practice. It can help your keep your fish edible for longer periods of time when needed.

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