Fish is best served hot and is best stored in the fridge, but when it comes to freezing it for the long term, how does salmon fare?
People usually buy salmon with the intent of cooking the fish in one go instead of spacing it out in portions over the week.
Cooking an entire fish can be cumbersome and storing a cooked fish is far more difficult than storing raw salmon, which is why it is a great idea to properly freeze large portions of it.
How long can you freeze salmon? You can keep fresh salmon in an airtight freezer-safe bag in the freezer for about 3-6 months. The salmon can be kept in the fridge for about 3-4 days before it goes bad. However, there are a few key things to keep in mind before storing salmon in the freezer.
Read below to learn more about how to store salmon, how to thaw it, and how to properly store cooked salmon dishes so that they taste great even after several weeks!
Salmon is known for its wonderful texture, its balanced flavor, and its beautiful color, and the key to successfully storing this fish is to keep all of these characteristics in mind!
Freezing removes the excess water within the meat which either halts or slows down the growth of deadly bacteria.
But all of this comes at a price: the meat can lose its freshness and can also become noticeably less flavorful! This happens due to the crystallization of water within and over the surface of the fish.
Raw fish has a perfectly balanced moisture content but when you freeze it, the water molecules expand and escape through the meat fibers through the process of sublimation which damages the meat and leaves the fish dry.
This damage, along with the effect of oxygen on the enzymes within the meat causes significant degradation over time. This results in dull-looking and less tasteful fish meat.
There are many ways you can slow down this process but the keyword here is “slow down”. Even with industrial-grade refrigeration and freezing techniques, you can only slow the process of spoilage and not prevent it completely.
As soon as the fish is out of the freezer and thawed, it will again be susceptible to environmental factors and without proper storage, the fish will be even more prone to growing bacteria.
Thankfully, there are a few things that you can do to prevent irreversible spoilage.
How Long Does Salmon Last In The Freezer?
Salmon can be kept in the freezer for up to 3-5 months but there are a few steps that need to be followed to extend its storage time properly.
Tips And Tricks
Firstly, the salmon needs to be cleaned properly before you store it in the freezer.
Cleaning off any blood, residue or loosened bones will lead to a better storage experience as you won’t have to wait for the fish to thaw and then clean it before cooking.
Secondly, the fish needs to be dried completely. The best way to do this is to use a paper towel.
Pat the fish on all sides and leave it for about 5 minutes in the fridge. Take out the fish and give it another pat before wrapping it in a freezer-safe plastic warp.
The plastic will act as a buffer and will keep the fish from developing freezer burn. Remember, freezer burn occurs when food loses moisture and develops dark patches due to the presence of oxygen and the absence of moisture.
To lessen the impact of freezer burn, you will need to tightly wrap the fish and then place it in an airtight freezer bag. The bag will then need to be placed at the back of the freezer, away from the door.
If you keep the fish near the door then it may be subject to temperature changes as the door opens and closes. The goal here is to keep the fish at a frosty 0°F temperature for as long as possible!
There is a common debate in the food-storage community where some claim that food can be stored at 10-20°F to avoid freezer burn while also keeping the meat from going bad.
However, if you follow the indications laid out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), you will find that they recommend any type of meat to be stored at 0°F.
This is because bacterial growth slows down and most bacteria become dormant at freezing temperatures.
Does this affect the quality of the fish? Maybe so but it keeps it safe for the long term! This is a basic caveat of storing meat but is a necessary tradeoff to keep the meat as safe as possible.
Furthermore, the tips that we have mentioned above will greatly reduce freezer burn and will also keep the fish meat intact throughout its storage.
Thawing Frozen Salmon
Thawing fish meat is another challenge because you would want the meat to retain most of its texture and flavor.
There are many ways to thaw meat, but the worst and unfortunately, the most common way that some people do it is by letting the meat sit on the counter until it melts.
This may seem like a logical way to melt frozen fish but there is more than meets the eye when it comes to this method. For starters, the fish will be exposed to the environment as soon as it leaves the freezer.
As it thaws, the ice will melt and cause the fish to hydrate. The presence of moisture and oxygen will likely create a very suitable environment for bacterial growth.
Over time, the fish will reach room temperature, by then the process of bacterial growth would have already started. Also, the fish at this point will start to lose its texture and more importantly flavor due to the excess moisture as well.
This is why the best way to thaw salmon is to either keep the fish in the fridge overnight or to thaw it in a microwave using the thaw settings.
This will prevent bacterial growth and will also allow the fish to retain most of its flavor, color, and texture.
Once the fish is thawed you can slice it up or just cook with it as it is. If you want to marinate the fish then we recommend adding all the spices and herbs and then place the fish in the fridge as required.
On average, thawed salmon will remain fresh for about 2-3 days in the fridge. Avoid refreezing the fish once it is out of the freezer.
This will cause the salmon to lose even more moisture and as a result, it will become even less tasty and fresh.
A great tip would be to either slice raw salmon or create individual boxes with just the right number of slices or fillets to avoid refreezing the fish again.
Also, as a best practice, never freeze a marinated fish in the freezer as it will cause the fish to tenderize and the herbs and spices will lose a lot of their flavor as they freeze too.
We guarantee that marinating a thawed raw fish will taste much better than a pre-marinated frozen fish!
Checking For Signs Of Spoilage
Fish is notorious for going bad without notice! This is why you need to be extra careful when dealing with frozen fish.
Even if you keep the fish frozen for a few months at the right temperature, you still need to check for spoilage which can occur due to several reasons.
For example, the continuous opening and closing of the door of the freezer can lead to significant temperature discrepancies that may not seem like a lot to you but will have an impact on the storage of the fish.
Also, sometimes freezers can malfunction and other times small mistakes can take a heavy toll, like if the freezer door were left ajar due to a blockage.
A lot can happen in 3-6 months so if you take the fish out after the full storage period, then we highly recommend that you inspect it before usage.
Here are a few great ways to tell if the fish has gone bad:
Discoloration can occur due to freezer burn but that is mostly seen as an innocuous whitish color or dry patches on the surface of the fish. These changes do not indicate spoilage but are more of an indicator of quality.
Signs of serious discoloration are a dull and gray color or a black patch. These changes would indicate that the fish has gone bad. If this happens, we recommend that you toss the entire fish instead of cutting the affected section.
While the fish may seem okay on the other side, the bacteria may have already infiltrated the whole of the fish. Trust us, you don’t want to get sick from bad salmon!
Salmon smells like the ocean with a slightly salty and fishy scent. If you smell an overly fishy or putrid smell then it is best to just discard the whole fish.
Some smells may develop as the fish thaws which is normal but even then, you shouldn’t smell any foul odor. For example, thawed fish will have a slightly pronounced fishy and salty smell but it wouldn’t smell like it has gone bad.
The description of a rotten fish may be difficult to explain but we guarantee that you will know it when you smell it!
A healthy and safe-to-eat salmon will never be slimy.
Think back to the time when you first prepared the fish before putting it in the freezer. Did you notice any slime then?
That is because salmon does not develop any film or slime, so if you notice these changes on the surface of the meat then you might need to discard it.
The texture of salmon is soft, wet but never slimy or sticky. Slime develops when bacteria have overtaken the surface of the meat which is more commonly seen in fish that has been thawed over the counter for more than 6 hours!
As mentioned, salmon has a firm texture and will never be mushy or overly soft. A great test for its texture would be to press the body of the fish at any spot. If the skin bounces back then that would indicate that the fish is safe to eat.
If you press down on the fish and it leaves an indent that doesn’t bounce back then just throw away the meat without inspecting it further.
A loosened texture is common with frozen fish but when the surface of the fish leaves an indentation, then that is a clear sign of spoilage.
Foam While Cooking
This is rare but has been known to happen with some improperly stored meat.
Sometimes even when you don’t notice all of the above signs of spoilage, the salmon may still have been compromised and a tell-tale sign of this will reveal itself when you cook the meat.
This is the final stage of the detection process. Keep an eye out for any foam or foam-like residue on top of the pot while cooking salmon. This can be seen when you boil the fish in a curry or add it to a pan for searing.
If foam forms around fish that hasn’t been marinated, then that would indicate that the meat has gone bad.
Remember, fresh or properly stored salmon will never create any type of foam, especially if you just sear it on a pan!
Conclusion – A Checklist For Storing Salmon
There are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account when it comes to freezing salmon.
While it may be a lot of things, once you get into the habit of storing this way, you will be able to easily store fish meat for the long term without fearing for your safety.
Here are all the points summarized:
|Freezer Packaging||Washing, drying, and then wrapping the salmon in foil before adding it to a freezer-safe airtight bag|
|Ideal Temperature For Freezing||0°F|
|Ideal Temperature For Refrigeration||40°F|
|Storage Time (Ideal Conditions) – Freezer||3-5 months|
|Storage Time (Ideal Conditions) – Fridge||3-4 days|
|Thawing Method||Thaw in the fridge overnight or in the microwave|
|Precautions||Check for spoilage before use|
|Common But Acceptable Issues While Freezing||Slight discoloration due to freezer burn, dried texture, and a less impactful flavor|
Now that you know all about storing salmon and the best practices for a safe cooking experience, here are a few related questions!
Can you directly cook frozen salmon?
Yes, but it depends on how you want to cook the salmon.
For example, you can directly work with frozen pieces of salmon if you want to blanch the fish or make poached salmon.
However, when it comes to grilling, it would be best if you could wait for a little before adding it to the pan so that the fish cooks evenly.
You can also directly deep-fry frozen fish but it would result in dangerous spills and splatters which is why we would recommend that you thaw the salmon before usage!
Can any fish meat be frozen the same way?
Yes, all types of fish meat can be frozen the same way but some may require a bit more tweaking than others.
For example, oily fish (like sardines, trout, herring) may have slight textural differences and may also naturally develop a strong smell, which would otherwise indicate spoilage in salmon.
Always check with the store for indications on how to properly store oily fish for the best results.
Can smoked salmon be frozen?
Yes, but we wouldn’t recommend freezing smoked salmon because it will significantly impact its flavor. The best way to store smoked salmon would be to keep it in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3-4 days.
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