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.
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.