Fish spoils pretty easily after it is caught, so it is very important to have a plan in mind for how you want to preserve the meat. Proper preservation will greatly extend the life of the fish, and it will also make it much safer for you and your friends or family to consume.
In order to preserve your fish in the best and most efficient manner possible, you need to start the preservation process while the fish is a fresh as can be. Also, the better the quality of the fish, the easier it will be to preserve.
Of all the types of meat, fish is the one that decomposes most quickly. It also can easily become rancid or be ruined by microbes. You can help prevent all of this by keeping your fish alive for as long as possible after you have caught it. One easy way to keep the fish alive is a metal link bag. It will maximize the fish’s ability to stay alive. Bacteria and other things that lead to spoilage will always be present, particularly with fish, but they multiply much, much faster on a deceased fish than on a live specimen, particularly if the water is warm.
Once fish are taken out of the water, they begin to deteriorate almost immediately. For this reason, you should clean your fish as soon as you remove them from the water if possible. Thoroughly cleaning the fish and chilling in promptly will keep it as intact as possible. This is particularly important if the weather is warm, as head rapidly accelerates the decaying process.
Fish does not contain a lot of acid, so the safest way to process it is at the temperatures reached by a pressure canner. Failure to heat-process fish at a minimum of 240 degrees Fahrenheit may allow bacteria to survive and grow within the food. This is an easy way to get food poisoning, and that is obviously something that everyone wants to avoid. Contrary to popular belief, adding a small amount of vinegar or packing the fish in tomato juice or tomato paste does not alleviate the need for heat processing fish.
When canning fish, use standard canning jars (they should be heat-tempered). The times listed below are for pint jars. Also, wide-mouthed jars are easier to fill. This is the general USDA method for canning fish without sauce (including blue, mackerel, salmon, steelhead, trout, and other fatty fish except tuna):
- Within two hours of catching the fish, clean and gut it. Keep cleaned fish on ice until you are ready to can it.
- Remove head, tail, fins and scales from the fish, and wash and remove all blood. Split the fish lengthwise (this is optional).
- Cut the cleaned fish into 3.5 inch sections. Fill the pintjars with the skin side of the fish against the glass, and be sure to leave an inch of headspace. Do not add liquids. Adjust lids and process.