We have all seen anglers hang their catch on a stringer, throw them on a beach, into a bucket, creel, or cooler. Which way is best?
Since fresh fish are a regular staple in the Montana Grant household, here are some suggestions that help make your fish meal the BEST!
It takes a fish out of water about 10 minutes to die. On a stringer or in a cooler, it could take hours. During this time, the fish will be struggling and under stress which will ruin the quality of your potential meal.
When fish or critters struggle and fight after being caught or wounded, they produce lactic acid in their muscles. This is the same acid humans feel in their muscles when we get a good burn during exercise. Lactic acid changes the delicate flavor of fish and contributes to making it more fishy or gamey in taste.
If you are planning to eat it, kill it immediately! The less stress on the fish or critter will preserve the fresh and healthy flavor we desire. For fish, use a Billy Club to render the fish dead quickly. You can make one or find them in fishing catalogs. One solid “thunk” on the head will do the job quickly and ethically. Once the fish is dead, use a knife to cut through a couple of gills and allow the fish to bleed out.
Once the fish has been dispatched, bled and rinsed, place it into an ice cooler. Usually, a couple inches of ice under and over the fish will insure the best preservation. Plan to use a pound of ice per pound of fish. This means that most fishermen will always have more ice than they need since we always think our catches are bigger than they really are. The ice will preserve your future meal.
A creel or other option is acceptable short term as long as you keep the fish out of the sun and moist. Bright sunlight is a fish’s worst enemy when considering temperature, moisture, and taste.
Clean your catch sooner than later. The fish flesh itself is nearly sterile but the viscera, guts, and skin surface will contain bacteria. A fish out of water begins to breakdown immediately. If you plan to eat the fish out of the cooler rinse thoroughly and enjoy. You can refrigerate fish a few days but freezing is the best option for longer time storage. Wrapping the fish in an airtight sealed bag is important. Keep the air away from the fish. Label and date your future meal and use within 3 months. Personally, fresh, unfrozen fish is the Best!
Filleting a fish is my favorite cleaning option. Whole fish with their skin and bones in place add other flavors to the meal. Pollutants such as mercury and arsenic can be easily removed by skinning and trimming off the fatty belly meat and bones. Filets are also very user friendly for a variety of recipes.
If your friends and family don’t like fish, try “Sweetening the Filets”. Once you have cleaned your catch, soak the fish in a bath of baking soda, salt and cold water for a few hours or overnight. The ratio of 2 tablespoons of Baking Soda to 3 teaspoons of salt to one gallon of cold water works best. Submerge the fish and hold down with a heavy plate while refrigerating. You will be amazed at the gelatinous and oily residue that will be floating on the brine. This residue causes the fish to taste “fishy”. Getting rid of this residue will make most fish taste fresher and sweeter.
Sharing our fishing and hunting adventures around the table is a wonderful way to celebrate our efforts and bounty of the outdoors. Feeding our family and friends the most delicious and healthy foods is a way to give thanks.