Nothing makes me happier than the thought of a fishing adventure that includes not only the catching of a big, beautiful salmon or steelhead, but its proper cleaning, filleting and cooking. To me, and perhaps you, enjoying a meal consisting of fresh fish is the perfect culmination to any fishing adventure.
After the high-fives and photos are complete, the first thing you need to do is bleed your catch. You can do this by breaking loose one or more gill rakers, either with your finger or a knife blade.
If you intend to eat your fish fresh, it’s best to clean and/or fillet your prize as soon as possible. Realize, though, that fresh fish will only keep in the refrigerator for about five days.
Freezing is what most anglers do to preserve their catch longer. But unlike venison, fish will not stay fresh-tasting after freezing for more than a few weeks, unless you vacuum pack it, freeze it in barbecue sauce, or freeze the entire fish whole.
Freezing your fish in barbecue sauce will keep it fresh-tasting for up to six months. This is a quick and inexpensive way to keep fish tasty for an extended period, providing that you like the taste of barbecue sauce.
What works is to place two fillets meat-to-meat (with the skin facing outward) into a zip-top freezer bag. Add enough barbecue sauce between the fillets, two to three cups, to cover all exposed meat, fold the bag over, expel all air and zip shut. After thawing, rinse the barbecue sauce away with cold water. You can then cook any number of ways, including on the barbecue – with fresh barbecue sauce, of course.
Most anglers are surprised when hearing that my favorite way to store fish for an extended time period is to freeze them whole, without gutting or filleting. Just bleed them, hold them on ice during transport, and freeze.
Since she doesn’t like the fish looking up at her when opening the freezer, my wife Maggie has me put my freezerbound salmon in a plastic bag – a tall kitchen-size bag works for most salmon.
This quick and easy method will keep fish fresh-tasting for as long as nine to ten months. As an example, I’ve got a whole spring Chinook in my freezer now waiting for the Christmas holiday. We do this every year; there is just something special about enjoying fresh springer in December.
During preparation, it’s important to thaw slowly by placing your frozen salmon in a water-filled cooler the night before. Once thawed, scrape or brush all the slime away (this eliminates any freezer taste that might accumulate on the outsize of your fish) and fillet as though your salmon were fresh – trust me, it will taste like fresh-caught.
Surprisingly to some, fresh frozen fish lends itself particularly well to the smoking process; you see, freezing causes cell tissue to burst, so fish that have been frozen take on the flavor of the brine ingredients and wood smoke better. NS