Prepping Sportfish

If you’re going fishing and looking to preserve your catch for later consumption, there are a few handling methods that will aid in maintaining the fresh, delicate flavor of your future meal. Along with preserving flavor, your other concern regarding a gilled creature is ensuring that it remains unspoiled during its trip from water to frying pan.

If possible, when landing a fish try to avoid bruising the flesh by not allowing it to land on a hard surface. This will prevent bruising and keep the meat tender in all areas. Using a hose or bucket with clean water, wash the fish. Water in the proximity of industrial areas, treatment plants and marinas should not be used due to pollution factors. Washing the fish with water removes surface contaminants such as bacteria that can cause deterioration of freshness and eventually lead to spoilage.

Place the fish on ice in an insulated container to keep it fresh, using one pound of ice for each pound of fish. If you’re on a boat that doesn’t have a storage area be sure to bring along a large, insulted ice chest with plenty of ice. Consider that you can always get rid of ice if you have too much but can’t make it when you’re out on the water hauling in your catch. You’ll want about three inches of ice around each layer of fish. Chilling should be done within the first hour of landing the fish, although it’s best to get it on ice as soon as possible.

Before cleaning your catch, wash it again with chlorinated water. Be sure to rinse the skin thoroughly. Fish have a lot of bacteria on their scales and so proper handling is essential to prevent sickness. Your catch should be cleaned as soon as possible with special attention being paid to the flesh. Breaking the clean flesh located directly under the skin can result in the spread of bacteria, which can then take root, grow, and cause illness. Wash the flesh after scaling with clean water and dab dry with a paper towel.

Prior to scaling, gutting, or handling fillets, be sure to wash your hands. To gut the fish cut through the belly and remove all internal organs and blood, and then wash internally with cool water. Avoid soaking fillets in freshwater; this will compromise the flavor and texture of the meat.

If you freeze raw fish, it should be cooked frozen. Thawing uncooked fish results in a loss of flavor and can give the flesh a spongy or chewy texture while making it dry inside. For every inch of thickness, cook the fish for 10 minutes (until the meat is opaque). Add five minutes per inch if enclosed in foil and 10 minutes if frozen. Never overcook fish; it will be dry and tasteless.

If thawing cooked fish, do so in the refrigerator or under cold running water. Thawing at room temperature can lead to bacterial growth and illness.

After cleaning, your fresh catch can be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days. Cover your catch to keep it fresh and to contain the odor. Fish that has gone bad will have a "fishy" or ammonia smell to it. Remember to follow safe handling instructions and enjoy and savor the flavor of your fresh catch. Whether grilled, baked or fried, there’s nothing like it!

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