Can You Freeze Smoked Fish?


frozen salmon and fire

You and your smoker have created something great, something world-class, a piece of fish that could sit on the table of any Michelin star holding restaurant around the world. Ok, maybe not that good, but your friends loved it and there are leftovers. What should you do with them?

Can you freeze smoked fish? You can store your smoked fish in the freezer for up to three months. For the most flavor and freshness, you should consume it in one to two months to ensure that its original flavor has been preserved. Freezing your fish for too long can cause it to break down and thus diminish its quality. 

Smoking is a fantastic way to add richness and depth to your fish, but sometimes, all that hard work does not deserve being tossed in the trash just because you couldn’t find room in your stomach to eat it. Wrap that fish up and introduce it to your freezer. Continue reading to learn the best steps to freezing your fish properly and then how to unthaw fish once you are ready to see its smoked perfection back on your plate.

How to Freeze Smoked Fish 

Contrary to what some people believe, smoking your fish does not actually prolong its freshness. If you are looking to really extend the life of your fish, consider grabbing your camping gear and heading to the great wide open for a good drying session. Totally kidding, that can be done at home just like smoking, but smoking your fish makes no difference in its shelf life, only its flavor. 

To freeze smoke fish, there are a few steps to ensure its freshness:

  1. Add Oil 
  2. Remove All Air
  3. Bag It Up 

Following these steps will help assure flavor and freshness for your frozen smoked fish.

Let’s take a closer look.

1. Add Oil 

When it comes to food, freezing can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. No one wants to pull out their Mother’s famous Christmas lasagna and see that it has been completely consumed by the dreaded freezer burn. Ice crystals may have taken away your Mama’s lasagna, but it does not have to claim your fish. One way to help keep the moisture in and crystals out of your fish is to brush it with a very thin layer of oil.

Putting a very, and I mean very, thin layer of oil on the outside of the fish before freezing can help to lock in moisture and keep it from losing its color as well as super delicious smoky taste. The key with this is to put just enough oil to coat the surface and then leave it be. Do not overdo it as excess oil can change the taste of your fish and can also freeze poorly and affect the overall structure of the fish. A little goes a very long way in this instance. 

Olive oil tends to work most cohesively with fish due to its high-fat content, but if you only have regular corn or sunflower oil laying around, it should not do any harm. Because it is such a thin layer, this should not affect the flavor of your fish. The purpose behind oil is not to add another taste to the fish, but to simply help to preserve it a bit better than just tossing it into the freezer and hoping it fares well. 

2. Remove All Air 

The biggest player in keeping your fish fresh, however is not oil. Keeping air out and away from your smoked fish is the most important step to keeping it as delicious as the day you pulled it off the smoker and served it to a crowd in awe. Air is bad news when it comes to freshness and your fish is no exception. You need to make sure that your fish is stored as airtight as possible. 

Some people think that placing your fish in an airtight container will do the trick, but what do you think within all that empty space that surrounds your fish within the container? Air. Air even inside is a bad thing as it gives room to moisture which thus leads to freezer burn. There are freezer bags available that will work, but be sure that every inch of air has been squeezed from it. This can take a few attempts, but trust me, the effort is worth it. 

If you do not want to have to worry about any air being present in the storage process, your best option is to invest in a vacuum sealer. You do not have to go and spend hundreds of dollars on one of these devices to get the right job done, as there are many affordable options that can get the air away from your fish just as efficiently. No matter if high or low end, vacuum sealers help to ensure that no air will get to your fish and it will stay perfectly fresh. 

3. Bag It Up 

You may think that removing all air is your very last step, but if you really want to protect your smoked fishes’ integrity, you will want to put it into an additional protective bag. This may seem completely unnecessary, but this protective layer helps to keep any and all moisture and ice away from your fish and out of its airtight layer. You do not need this layer to be airtight, as a simple resealable plastic bag will work just fine. 

Just be sure not to store too much fish together in one bag. If you have multiple pieces or a larger volume of fish to store, try to fill each secondary bag with about a pound of fish. If you pack too much in a bag, you run the risk of them sticking together during their stay in the freezer and it could break apart or damage the individual pieces. 

How to Thaw Frozen Fish 

Now, you know how to freeze your fish and keep it fresh a daisy, but eventually, you are going to want to eat that fish. Because of your need to eat, you will have to unthaw it. This is a process that many people approach with hesitation. The dish can sometimes thaw unevenly, can overcook if using heat like a microwave, and can sometimes sit out too long leading to potential bacterial growth. 

Thawing does not have to be intimidating though. To thaw frozen fish, the top recommended methods are to thaw it in the refrigerator or thaw it in cold water. Both of these methods have their advantages, so choose the one that is right for you.

Thaw Frozen Fish in the Refrigerator 

Thawing in the refrigerator is a great option if you want to ensure that your fish thaws evenly, does not get to a temperature that can lead to nasty bacterial growth, and is one that you can get done overnight rather than on-the-spot dethawing. 

This method is pretty cut and dry: all you need to do is grab your fish, keep the vacuum-sealed layer on, place it on a plate to account for any water let off, and leave it in there overnight. 

The biggest stumbling block to this method is having to remember the night before. Come on, some of us only start thinking about dinner two minutes before we decide to call it a day and eat a bagel. 

Once your fish has made it to the fridge, it will be good to go for about two days. If it remains uncooked for longer than two days, you risk it spoiling. Always be sure to check its smell and overall color to determine if it has gone bad or not. 

Thaw Frozen Fish in Cold Water 

If you are more like me and are not thinking about dinner the night before and are scrambling to get food on the table, thawing your smoked fish in cold water could be the best method for you. You thaw fish in cold water rather than warm or hot water to make sure that you do not cook your fish during the thawing process. 

To thaw in cold water simply get a bowl and fill it with water. If your fish floats, put a plate on top to keep it submerged. Check your fish to see if it has unthawed by poking it at its thickest area. If it still feels frozen, give it a bit longer and check again. 

You can also thaw by running cold water over top. You don’t need a heavy stream, just a light even flow that will reach most parts of the fish. If you want to conserve water, the first option is the better bet. Decide which option works best for you and your fish, and then go for it. You will be well on your way to a delicious second rendition of your beautifully smoked fish.

William Johnson

Will has loved smoking food in his free time for the last few years. Each major holiday or off-weekend, Will spends days testing and prepping new recipes for perfection.

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