The Best Way to Store Fish

Here’s everything you need to know to make sure your fish stays as fresh as possible, and how to defrost it for dinner.

<p>Rosa Martin / 500px / Getty Images</p>

Rosa Martin / 500px / Getty Images

There is nothing more enjoyable than a piece of fish straight from the ocean and on your plate, whether for fish tacos, a grilled fish dinner, or a dinner party-worthy roast fish. Most of us don’t live near a seaport, but getting fresh fish is possible at grocery stores and fish markets across the country. Even so, fish is one of the most wasted foods in the country due to concerns home cooks have about freshness and food safety. How do you know how fresh your fish is and what’s the best way to store it? We turned to Andrew Wilkinson, chef specialist for North Coast Seafoods for answers; here's the advice he shared.

What's the best way to store fish in the refrigerator?

The biggest enemy to fish freshness is warm air. To keep your fish as fresh as possible, “You want to keep the core temperature of the fish below 34°F,” says Wilkinson. Since the setting on most refrigerators is around 40°F, Wilkinson recommends wrapping your fish tightly in plastic wrap to prevent exposure to air and placing it in the coldest part of the fridge (usually towards the back of the fridge). If you’re worried your fridge isn’t very cold, Wilkinson has a tip: “One trick I do at home is to place a frozen ice pack on top of the fish to bring it to an even colder temp," he says. "The ice pack will ensure it stays cold.”

How long can you store fresh fish?

The storage time for fresh fish varies depending on the type of fish, how it's stored, and its freshness when purchased.

“Generally, fresh fish can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days, even longer if the core temperature is kept low. However, it's best to consume it as soon as possible for the best flavor and quality,” says Wilkinson. “If you're unsure about its freshness, you can perform a smell and texture check before cooking. Fish will always smell like … fish (a relatively mild, clean smell similar to ocean mist). But it should not have a foul, ‘fishy’ odor, which is the smell of ammonia and signals decomposition is occurring.” As for texture, “fresh fish should feel firm and springy to the touch. If it feels mushy or slimy, it's likely gone bad.”

Use common sense as well, Wilkinson adds. “If you're unsure, it's best to err on the side of caution and discard it. Eating spoiled fish can lead to a foodborne illness,” and no one wants that.

Can you freeze fresh fish?

Yes, you can freeze fresh fish but how you store it is very important to maintaining its quality and texture. “The best way to freeze fresh fish is to pat it dry thoroughly with paper towels to remove the excess moisture," says Wilkinson. "If it’s a whole side of fish, it’s best to cut it into portions before freezing for easier storage and thawing. Then wrap each portion tightly in plastic wrap and place it in a ziplock bag, or use a vacuum sealer to reduce air exposure and prevent freezer burn.”

Don’t forget to label your fish! You’ll want to write the type of fish and the date to keep track of how long they've been in the freezer.

Related: The Best Vacuum Sealers for Freezing Food

How long does frozen fish last in your freezer?

Frozen fish can last indefinitely in the freezer, but after three months, you will notice texture changes when thawed. This is why it’s crucial to make sure the fish is frozen in an air-tight environment.

What’s the best way to defrost fish?

The best way to defrost fish is the same as you would defrost meat: slowly in the fridge. Place the wrapped fish on a plate or tray to catch any dripping and place it in the refrigerator. Depending on the type and size of the fish, it’ll need anywhere from 12 hours to two days to thaw. Wilkinson doesn’t recommend thawing at room temperature and cautions against shortcuts: “Absolutely don't thaw it under hot water, as you can promote bacterial growth and compromise the texture and flavor of the fish.” However, if you’re short on time and need to thaw the fish quickly, he suggests placing the fish (still in its plastic wrapping) under cold running water for five to eight minutes. Once thawed, use the fish within a day or two.

Can you cook fish directly from frozen?

Yes, you can! Cooking fish directly from frozen is an easy way to bypass having to defrost it. It can be a little more difficult to determine when the fish is cooked, so it’s important to use a thermometer. Wilkinson shares one of his favorite ways to cook frozen fish is at a low temperature with lemon, herbs, and olive oil. “Set the oven temperature to 275°F. Place the fish fillets in an oven casserole dish just large enough to hold them without a lot of empty space. Season with salt and pepper and top with thin slices of lemon. Then top with some sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary and an ample amount of extra virgin olive oil. Every oven is different, so cook it until the internal temp is about 135°F. You can use the leftover flavored oil as a sauce for the fish or drain all the oil and liquid and broil with a buttered breadcrumb mixture for a classic New England fish dish.”

Related: 18 Baked Fish Recipes to Make All Year

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