Can you freeze striped bass?

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It was probably round about when we caught our third keeper striper, earlier this season, that I reversed my long-standing policy of not freezing fish.

Home freezing invariably damages food. As the food freezes, the water in it expands and breaks the cell walls. The slower the freezing, the worse the damage, and your average home freezer can turn that lovely, firm flesh mushy and dry. Because texture is a big part of what makes striper such a fine eating fish, I’d always given away any excess striper we found ourselves with, rather than turning it into sad, mealy striped bassicles.

This year, as we landed fish after fish, each yielding about five pounds of meat, I started looking at it differently. Not only did we have a lot more fish than we had last year, we had one of those food-saving vacuum-seal gizmos, which, while it won’t stop the textural damage, should slow further deterioration from freezer burn.

Striped bass with black bean sauce

There’s no doubt that a frozen filet would never be as good as a fresh one, but I decided that just meant we shouldn’t grill it and do the comparison. I’d use the frozen stuff in stews and soups and, come January, I’d be damn glad to have a supply.

But I was curious, and I couldn’t wait. So last night I made striped bass with black bean sauce.

It was really collards and onions with black beans sauce, topped with striped bass. Normally, I’d cut the fish into chunks and add it to the vegetables, letting it cook in the sauce, but I wanted to get some idea of how different the frozen fish was from the fresh, so Kevin Iron Cheffed it separately.

Iron Chef is our wintertime grilling facsimile. We take a cast-iron pan with the little ridges on the bottom (we have one for fish, one for meat), and put it under the broiler, empty. When it’s very, very hot, we add the fish. The hot pan cooks it from the bottom while the broiler cooks it from the top. Six minutes later, we have perfectly cooked striped bass.

It certainly looked good.

Kevin plated our dinner. Rice, then vegetables, then fish, then a drizzle of sauce.

I cut into the filet. It didn’t have the same glistening moistness of fresh, but it definitely hadn’t dried out. I tasted it. It was good. Very good, even. The texture had suffered, and it lacked that certain unctuous something, but it still had its mild flavor and thick flake.

Can you freeze striped bass? You most certainly can. And a good thing, too, since we’ve got about thirty meal-size packets of it in the basement freezer. It’s not even January, and I’m damn glad to have it.

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Comments

  1. Kim Graves says:

    Tamar, Consider getting a deep freezer – they’re cheap. The difference between 0 and -20 is huge. Even so, fish won’t keep forever. We can’t get fish in the Hudson Valley and so make a twice a year run into the Union Square market. But it doesn’t last for 6 months. My guess is that 3-4 months is the limit vs 1-2 in our frig freezer. But it does keep birds, beef and venison longer. Even the venison is poor after 8 months in the freeze. Best,

  2. I’m glad it was good – especially since you have so much in store! My aunt used to pressure can her own tuna. I’ve never done it, but I love to know that sort of thing can be done.

  3. Kim, I’m going to have to fess up and admit that I don’t know what a deep freezer is. I know what a flash freezer is, but those are expensive. Is there a kind of freezer in between? If so, I want one.

    Kris, I have a pressure canner, and fish has been on my list of possible cannees. Scares me a little, though.

  4. JFlaherty says:

    I heard… their was a a special top secret Striper Preparation process that onl Native NY’s living in NH know the secret to.

    The only way to get the secret is to have them down for a fishing adventure :-)

  5. Kingsley says:

    Here’s a thought -

    Can you make a brine such that when put in the freezer at minus-whatever, it remains liquid?
    You could then vacuum pack (or just bag) your fish and drop it into this deep-deep freeze for a much quicker freeze.

    I wonder if this would result in a better frozen-fish?

    The freezing point of ethanol is -114 °C (-173.2 in that F thing), so perhaps some of this would help in a brine?

    • Kingsley, I like the way you think. Because a liquid is a better heat conductor, a fish dropped in a liquid at, say, 10 degrees (that F thing) will freeze faster than if it’s just put in the freezer that’s at 10 degrees.

      First, I should find out what temperature my freezer is. Then, I need something with a very low freezing point. The maximum I could get out of a salt solution is about -6F. Ethanol would clearly work, but I’d be afraid that whatever I wrapped the fish in would leak, and I’d have ethanol on the fish. Besides, I wouldn’t know where to buy ethanol.

      The solution, I think, is vodka. 80 proof vodka freezes at about -16F, and if some gets on the fish, no matter. Hell, you could drop the fish in naked and call it a marinade.

      • kingsley says:

        Ethanol is the magic ingredient in Vodka. I’m not sure about the rest of the ingredients, perhaps they’re something to do with the hangover.

        Thinking about it – I’m not sure where you could get food-grade ethanol from either. Vanilla extract is ~30% ethanol … not sure how the flavour would match though. Maybe it’s about time Kevin built a ‘still.

  6. I believe what Kim mentions is also called a chest freezer. It gets colder than an upright freezer or the freezer part of a refrigerator and food keeps longer.

    You might see if Alton Brown on the Food Network has any suggestions for freezing fish. He uses dry ice to freeze berries faster so there’s less damage to the cell walls. Maybe you could try that with the fish? After freezing them in a cooler with dry ice, he just bags up the berries and puts them in his regular freezer.

  7. I’ve never had a problem freezing fish. I just put them in a zip lock and add water until they’re covered well. Then I burp any air out of the bag when sealing. As long as it’s all water and fish with no air, they freeze well and last a long time in the freezer. To thaw, I just put the bag in a bowl and set it in the refrigerator at least a day before I plan on cooking them. For some reason, the water always seems to want to leak out of the bag then they thaw and the bowl keeps it from making a mess. Honestly, I can’t tell much difference between fresh and the fish I’ve frozen. For stripers, I always cut out the dark stripe and sometimes I soak them in 7-up for a while before cooking. It gives them a more delicate flavor.

    • David, I’ve heard tell of that technique. Next time I have striper, I’ll try that and compare it with my vacuum sealer. Thanks!

      • the water method works I’ve heard but for easy freezing, wrap tightly in 2 layers plastic wrap first, (old school vacuum wrap) then place in freezer bag, removing as much air as possible, place in chest freezer