Great Tasting Salmon- The Best Way to Freeze Fish

best way to freeze fishLike many fishermen, I’ve always wanted to utilize my catch and not be wasteful of a great resource.  Admittedly, I struggled for years trying to figure out how to get the most out of my Salmon and Steelhead.  I’d fillet and vacuum pack, filet and freezer paper, but unless we ate the fish within 6 months, I simply wasn’t interested in enduring the diminished flavor.  I’d occasionally have to politely eat it, but certainly didn’t look forward to seconds or the plate of leftovers to follow.

I’d give much of my fish away during the seasons to make sure it was utilized with a smile.  Because of this, we’d go a large part of the year with out a readily available supply of fish and for someone who makes a living at catching fish, it certainly didn’t seem right.

During the winter of 2010 I was walking through one of our local grocery stores here in Lake Oswego, Oregon.  I don’t know why, but I always walk by the seafood display to see what’s being sold.  I haven’t bought anything out of a grocery store display case in years, but I like to see where prices are and snicker at the site of the Talapia and farm raised Salmon buyers.  Do they really know what their buying?

As I walked by the display, I noticed some Wild Caught Salmon fillets that looked absolutely pristine.  They were previously frozen, but the appearance of these fillets looked fabulous.  I stopped and asked the clerk standing over the case what their secret was with the fillets.  “Secret?”, he replied.  “Ya, your secret.  How do you get an out of season fillet to look like it just came off a fresh Salmon?”

The gentleman went on to tell me that the Salmon showed up whole, with the guts and gills having been previously removed.  They would then put the Salmon in a tub of tap water and in a matter of 4-5 hours, the fish was thawed out enough to fillet.  The filleted fish looked fresh and apparently tasted pretty good as well.

The key to the storage method was that none of the flesh had ever been exposed to air.  Not even for a second.  The wrapper that the fish naturally comes in- the skin and inner lining of the stomach cavity, is the best vacuum package there is.  You simply can’t improve upon it.

The end result of having now employed this technique with our own fish storage, is frozen fish, long removed from it’s catch date, that tastes unbelieveable.  In March 2012, due to a great 2011 Spring Run, a family full of fish snobs repeatadly enjoyed Springer that was over 9 months old.  Some might say, “what would a family of four be able to do with a #15 Salmon?”  I can assure you, we have no problem consuming an entire Salmon over the course of a week, as long as it tastes good.  We really enjoy the benefits of the best of Omega 3 sources and love eating it right off the grill, on salads and even make breakfast hash for the kids with it.

Below is a picture tutorial of how I go about putting fish up….

1.  Place your gutted and gilled Salmon/Steelhead on a piece of freezer paper 2 1/2 times the length of the fish.  Shiny side towards the fish, of course.


2. Fold the freezer paper back over the fish, roll up the end, then proceed in rolling up the fish into the paper.  Wrap it like a gift.  I’ve used a blue masking tape in this example.  I don’t believe it’s necessary to spend the money on freezer tape.  We’ve never had a problem with the less expensive masking tape.


3.  Wrap the fillet up tight.  I like to take a turn with the tape at the head, the tail and mid-fish.


4.  After the freezer paper is wrapped up tight, stuff the fish in a kitchen garbage bag.  Roll the fish into the bag, use two if necessary, one for each end of the fish.  Just cinch the bag up with your masking tape as you see in the picture.


5.  Make sure to mark your fish with the date.  We like to know what we’re grabbing out of the freezer so we also mark the species.  My girls have since had me add who caught the fish.  I guess that might make it taste even better in certain cases.


6.  Into the freezer for a cold nap.  Whole fish stack up great in a chest freezer.  I like to rotate the freezer occasionally to make sure we’re eating the oldest first.

How to store fish in the freezer


We have yet to find a fish, even as old as a year, that wasn’t a delight to eat.  That was never the case for us, even with commercially vacuum packed fillets.  Today, we’re able to enjoy an abundance of fish, year around.  Our family consumes between 50 and 60 Salmon per year now and it wouldn’t be possible without this system.


Lance Fisher is a Columbia River fishing guide and host of the NW Outdoor Show in Portland, Oregon.  You can follow Lance on Facebook, or visit him on his guided fishing homepage.