Friday, January 4, 2008

Tips: Freezing and Thawing Fish, with Recipes for Pomegranate Salmon and Parsley Couscous Pilaf (Σολομός με Ροδί και Κουςκούς Πιλάφι)

Writing about pomegranate molasses yesterday made me crave it. I’d planned salmon for dinner, so used the molasses for marinade that doubled as sauce. The marinade added flavor to both the fish and the Parsley Couscous Pilaf I served with it.

The salmon was caught last summer in the icy waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. During fishing season, my husband’s friend Richard regularly tows his boat - and his friends - hundreds of miles down the Seward and Sterling Highways in search of wild Alaska seafood.

Richard with Silver SalmonRichard, master fisherman and mighty boat captain, is a remarkably successful seafood hunter, as are his fishing partners. By the end of summer we always have enough fish in the freezer to last the year.

Fish must be properly packaged for it to survive in the freezer without developing freezer burn or off flavors. Because it is fatty, salmon is particularly susceptible to turning rancid while frozen. Over many years, we’ve developed techniques for protecting fish against the freezer’s ravages.

Freezing Fish

Fish must be kept on ice until frozen, and should be frozen as soon as possible after it leaves the water. No matter how tired he is, when my husband gets home from fishing we immediately start processing and freezing fish. For those who buy it rather than catch it, any fish not to be eaten fresh should be frozen immediately upon return from the market.

I prefer freezing fish as fillets because they are easiest to portion, lie flat in the freezer, and freeze faster than other cuts. I pack the fillets in pieces large enough for two to avoid thawing out more fish than can be eaten at one meal.

As my husband fillets each fish, I cut the fillets to size and put them in the heaviest duty zip-lock freezer bags I can find. I fill a clean sink with very cold, clean water. I push the bag underwater and let it fill up with water so there is no air left in the bag. While it is underwater, I force enough water out of the bag for it to lie flat in the freezer and then firmly seal it.

I wrap the sealed bags of fish in freezer paper to form a flat package, tape it shut, and label it with the date, species of fish, and weight of the contents. Labeling is very important and protects against eating geriatric frozen fish discovered in the freezer’s depths.

When the fish is wrapped and labeled, I spread the packages out in the freezer to make sure they freeze as fast as possible. Fast freezing prevents large ice crystals from forming in the fish. For the same reason, you can also turn the freezer down to its lowest setting while the fish freezes. Don’t forget to turn the freezer back to its normal setting when the fish is completely frozen.

Vacuum-packing is another method of preparing fish for the freezer. This method works as long as the seal holds. If something punctures the plastic vacuum bag, air leaks in and vacuum packing’s protection is lost. For maximum freezer burn protection, wrap vacuum-packed fish in freezer paper to shield the plastic from punctures.

When vacuum-packing fish, make sure it is lying flat before applying suction. If fish is all akimbo when suctioned, the packages won’t stack well in the freezer. With one or two packages of fish, this isn’t a problem. However, it is very difficult to fit 20 irregularly shaped packages in the freezer at one time. Even worse, when the packages can’t be stacked they become dangerous rock-hard footballs that fly off freezer shelves and knock you in the head when you try to extricate a bag for dinner.

Thawing Fish

Frozen fish is best when thawed quickly. The easiest way to do this is putting the sealed bag of fish under cold running water. Resist the temptation to thaw fish in warm or hot water; doing so causes undesirable texture changes. Although some recommend it, I’ve never successfully thawed fish in a microwave and think it is a bad idea.

Thawing fish overnight in the refrigerator works, but the fish will lose a lot of moisture. I often thaw fish at room temperature without problem, but food safety experts advise strongly against doing so because it can cause bacterial growth and spoilage.

Last night we enjoyed silver salmon that was caught and packed in July. I thawed it under cold running water, put it in marinade when the center was still slightly frozen, and refrigerated the fish until just before I was ready to cook.

No matter how well you package it, frozen fish loses some moisture and is more susceptible than fresh fish to drying out. For this reason, be careful not to overcook fish that has been frozen. Serving frozen fish with a sauce, as with Pomegranate Salmon, also helps counteract dryness problems.

Pomegranate Salmon with Parsley Couscous PilafPomegranate Salmon (Σολομός με Ροδί)
Serves 4 – 6
In blind tastes tests, wild Alaska salmon beats farmed salmon every time. Besides having better flavor and texture, wild Alaska salmon is better for your health and for the environment. The color of wild Alaska salmon comes from its natural diet. It is not pumped full of dye, hormones, and antibiotics, as farmed salmon can be. Wild Alaska salmon is labelled as such; if your fishmonger doesn't identify salmon as wild, it is farm-raised.

2 pounds wild Alaska salmon fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup thyme or other full-flavored honey
1/4 cup finely minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup dry white wine

Minced parsley for garnish

Wash the salmon and dry it well. Using needle-nosed pliers, remove as many pin-bones from the salmon as possible. Skin the fillets and cut them into 4 – 6 even-sized pieces.

Thoroughly mix the pomegranate molasses, honey, garlic, Aleppo pepper, salt, and 1/4 cup wine. When the molasses and honey have dissolved, mix in the remaining wine. Put the marinade in a zip-lock bag (I use the bag in which the fish was frozen), add the salmon, seal the bag, and jostle the ingredients until the salmon is completely coated with marinade. Refrigerate and let the salmon marinate for 1 – 2 hours.

Pour the marinade in a small saucepan. Bring the marinade to a boil, watching carefully so it doesn’t boil over, and immediately turn down the heat to low. Simmer the marinade while you cook the salmon.

Remove the salmon from the bag and place it on paper towels. Pat the salmon dry, and season it on both sides with freshly ground black pepper. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan large enough to hold all the salmon until it is hot but not smoking. Sauté the salmon for 2 - 4 minutes per side, depending on its thickness. Don’t overcook the salmon; it tastes better slightly underdone than slightly overdone.

Spoon a pool of sauce (cooked marinade) on a plate. Top with a piece of salmon, and sprinkle it with parsley. Serve with Parsley Couscous Pilaf and a crisp green salad.

Parsley Couscous Pilaf (Κουςκούς Πιλάφι)
Serves 4 (If you are serving 6, proportionally increase the amount of ingredients.)
“Toasted couscous” is also sold as “Israeli couscous” or “pearl couscous.” It is not couscous as that term is commonly used in Moroccan cooking. Rather, it is pearl-shaped pasta that can be boiled and sauced, made into cold salads, cooked as risotto, or, as here, substituted for rice in pilaf.

1 cup minced shallots
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup toasted couscous
2 cups hot water
1 cup thinly sliced green onion
3/4 cup minced parsley
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon peel

Sauté the shallots, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until they soften and turn golden. Add the couscous and sauté until the couscous starts to brown. Add the hot water, bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat to low, and cook for 12 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the green onion, parsley, and finely grated lemon peel. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Serve immediately.


This is my entry for A Taste of Terroir 2008 hosted by Anna's Cool Finds.


Anonymous said...

The salmon in your photo looks so delicious. Thanks for the tips on fish feezing :)

Bellini Valli said...

Another perfect use for that pomegranate molasses I purchased. I imagine that your Alaskan salmon are our British Columbia salmon sharing the same waters. There is nothing like a beautiful freshly caught salmon. I wish I had a neverending supply!!

Peter M said...

Laurie, I bought the Molasses yesterday...I can't wait to experiment with it!

Anonymous said...

wish you a wonderful 2008, dear laurie.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

I'm with you--I love using pomegranate molasses as a glaze on fish and meat. Your looks simply delicious.

Laurie Constantino said...

Thanks Maryann. Most people may not need to freeze fish, but for those who do, I hope the information is helpful.

Valli, hard to say the nationality of a fish when you catch it in the ocean - I think they are all mixed up together, and certainly they all look alike! :-) There are about 16,000 anadromous fish streams in Alaska, so at least some of the ones we catch are Alaska natives. What I wish is that I had a neverending supply of FRESH fish -- but since I don't, the freezer is my alternative option. I agree with you though, freshly caught wild salmon has truly wonderful flavor.

Peter, I can't wait to see what creative use you make of it!

Thank you click (bee?) - Happy 2008 to you too!

Thanks, Susan. Besides the taste, I like using the pom molasses for fish/chicken marinade because of its wonderful color. It makes food look (and taste) so appetizing!

Mike of Mike's Table said...

Its funny, I was just pondering this the other day (did some fishing over vacation), so I'm really glad you posted this detailed write up. Now I'll be ready for next time. The recipe looks awesome, too.

Kevin said...

That salmon and couscous dinner looks tasty! I really like the sound of the green onion, parsley and lemon zest couscous. I will be looking for the molasses when I go to the market tomorrow.

maybahay said...

Beautiful. will have to find pomegranate molasses and try this out. the parsley couscous also looks delish.

Windy said...

Goodness me, I don't know there are so many procedures to deal with fish as I normally buy it from supermarket.

Anonymous said...

Great that pomegranate with the salmon!

Αρχοντία said...

Good evening! I'm glad you found my blog and gave me the opportunity to get to yours, which is great!
This seams delicious, and I'll try it.
Wishes for the new year from Greece!!

Peter said...

Happy new year Laurie. What a lovely recipe. And thanks for those good tips about freezing fish. I absolutely love Israeli couscous.

Laurie Constantino said...

Mike, glad to hear you caught some fish - always a good feeling! I hope your next trip is also successful and you can make use of the tips!

Kevin, I'm sure whatever you make will be interesting. And you are right, the couscous is very tasty.

Maybahay, I hope I've inspired you to find the molasses - it is really a wonderful ingredient.

Windy, of course fish is always best when it is fresh, so I can understand always buying it at the market. But here, where we get a flood of salmon and halibut and rockfish at only one time of year, freezing is the best way to preserve it (except for smoking, which we also do...)

Thanks, Ronell, hard to imagine you wouldn't like it!

Αρχοντία, thank you so much for visting, and I'm so glad you liked the fish! Χρόνια Πολλά και Καλή Χρονιά!!!!

Peter, I also loved Israeli couscous - their texture is very appealingl. Happy New Year and Χρόνια Πολλά!!

Cris said...

Love the story behind this salmon... sending you some sunshine. xoxo

swirlingnotions said...

Wow does this look good. I love pomegranate molasses, yet always seem to forget about it when it's time to cook. You've helped with my weekly menu--thank you! And thanks, too, for the advice on freezing and thawing fish. Good stuff.

winedeb said...

Hi Laurie! Living in the Keys, we can get lots of fresh fish here, but not your great salmon. Question is, do you think your method of freezing your fish would work for ours? We would be doing grouper, etc., warm water fish ???
I envy you with your lovely salmon, which is one of my favorite fishes. Last night I did a pan seared salmon with a tangerine/habenaro pepper glaze - wonderful! What a nice informative post! thanks!

Laurie Constantino said...

Thanks Cris, I need it!

Lia, for me making the menu is one of the most challenging things about cooking, so glad to help!

Winedeb, I definitely think the technique would work with warm water fish because the problems of freezing seafood are the same no matter where you live. Tangerine habenero glaze? Man, does that sound good - sure hope you post the recipe!

Anna Haight said...

Wow, this is as local as it gets! Thanks for participating in "A Taste of Terroir". I LOVE Alaskan salmon! (I'm originally from Seattle).

A scientist in the kitchen said...

I'm envious, we don't have fresh salmon here in the Philippines. I like it a lot and would love to get my hands on them and cook.

Laurie Constantino said...

Anna, I loved a Taste of Terroir. As I've told you, the entries were particularly interesting a well-written.

Scientist, you may not have fresh salmon, but you have plenty of other seafood that I would love to cook!

Núria said...

What a great post! Your explanations are so didactic. Thanks.
Plus, the salmon looks magnifico!!!!

ThreeTastes said...

Hi Laurie,
This recipe caught my eye last year, and today I"m getting an ingredient list together to try it -- is it really 1/4 cup of garlic? Can't wait to taste this!