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When you have limited to no freezer space, canning fresh fish gives you an easy alternative for preserving an abundance of fish. Whether you were fortunate enough to have a large catch, or just found a great deal on some fresh fish at the market, learning how to can fresh fish will help you preserve the meat in a safe and effective way. Use these tips to help get you started canning fresh fish at home today.
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Why Can Fresh Fish?
To some people, canning fresh fish at home sounds like a crazy way to preserve fish! And you might worry about safety, mess, smell, and other potential obstacles. Fortunately, if you follow the simple instructions it can be an easy afternoon activity that will give you loads of canned fish to fill your root cellar.
Before modern-day refrigeration techniques were invented, people had to find creative ways to can or preserve fish and other meats for long periods of time. Some solutions included pickling, drying, and smoking fish, as well as canning it. Even today, if you live with a fridge, or have a small off-grid refrigerator, canning fresh fish can be a good solution.
Despite the invention of refrigeration, canned meats have remained a popular staple in American households. Think about how many types of canned tuna, salmon, and other fish you see on grocery store shelves. Instead of paying those high store costs for a small tin of salmon, you can produce dozens of jars of your favorite fish at a fraction of the cost in one afternoon.
What Kind of Fish Should I Can?
When deciding what type of fish to can, always be sure to use the freshest fish possible.
If you caught the fish yourself, bleed it as soon as possible after catching the fish. This will help with the storage life. Carefully gut, clean, and rinse the fish before storing it on ice until ready for canning.
You may can almost any type of fatty fish, except for tuna. Some preferred species of fish ideal for canning include:
What You Need To Start Canning
- A pressure canner
- Pint or half-pint glass preserving jars
- Bands and lids to seal the jars
- Fresh fish
- Filleting knife
For choosing a canner, a dial-gauge pressure canner or weighted-gauge pressure canner would be ideal. Only use a pressure canner that has been maintained and doesn’t have any noticeable issues or cracks.
Also, don’t use any other canning method for fish, such as a water bath canner. The fish needs to be brought up to the exact temperature of 118°C to ensure the bacteria have been killed and it can be stored safely. The water bath method won’t bring the temperature up high enough to guarantee the fish have been properly sterilized and sealed.
When choosing glass jars, make sure they have been rated for safety in pressure canning. You don’t want glass jars exploding in your kitchen, so double-check you have the right jars for the job. You should also inspect each jar to ensure it doesn’t have any cracks, chips, or other problems that may affect the integrity of the jar.
If you like, you might want to add some salt or seasoning to your canned fish. Aim for 1 or 2 tablespoons of salt/seasoning per quart jar. You can always add more after a taste test if you want a stronger flavor.
- Fresh fish
- Dial-gauge pressure canner OR weighted-gauge pressure canner
- Jar lifter
- Mason jars
- Lids and bands
- Rinse your thawed fish with cold water to remove any slime.
- Remove the head, tail, fins, and scales. If you don’t know how to clean fish, check out these step-by-step instructions on how to fillet a fish.
- Split the fish lengthwise and cut into jar-sized chunks.
- Start heating about 3 inches of water in your pressure canner.
- Clean the glass jars and lids in hot, soapy water and rinse to disinfect them.
- Once dried, pack the fish into the jars with the skin side facing outwards. Pack the fish solidly, leaving a 1-inch headspace at the top.
- At this stage, you may add optional salt or seasonings to the jar.
- Carefully clean the tops of the jar and secure the lids as per manufacturer specifications.
- Once the pressure canner is ready, add the jars. To find the exact pounds of pressure and cooking time for your size of jar and type of fish, check out the National Center For Home Food Preservation’s quick reference sheet.
As mentioned previously, it is extremely important to follow safe canning practices. Refer to the National Center for Home Food Preservation's guidelines for your altitude and type of pressure canner - dial-gauge or weighted-gauge.
What to Know About Canning Fresh Fish
Exact pounds of pressure and required times vary due to altitude. If you live a few thousand feet above sea level, use the quick reference sheet linked below to calculate your necessary adjustments.
As an option, some people like to soak their fish in brine before canning it. Once you’ve cut the fish into jar-sized pieces, soak it in a brine with a ratio of 1 cup salt to 1 gallon of water. Let it soak in a bowl in the fridge for an hour. This additional step can help with taste, but it’s not required.
Now that you know the basics of how to can fresh fish, you will be able to safely preserve as much fish as you can handle. For people living off the grid or just trying to improve their self-reliance skills, canned fish will provide you a long-term emergency protein source to fill your cellar or pantry.
Next time you reach for a can of store-bought salmon or tuna in the cupboard, think about how much better your own fresh canned fish would taste, and start making your own today.
Additional Resources for Canning Fresh Fish
- National Center for Home Food Preservation - Selecting, Preparing & Canning Meat (Fish)
- Mother Earth News - Canning Fish in Quart Jars
FAQs About How to Can Fresh Fish
Q: “Can you can fish in a water bath canner?”
A: No. You can only use a pressure canner since the fish needs to be brought up to a temperature of 118°C to make it safe for preservation.
Q: “Can you can all kinds of fish?”
A: No. Only certain species of fish are suitable for canning. Ideally, you want a fatty-fish such as Salmon, Trout, Mackerel, Blue, Herring, etc.
Q: “Can you can smoked fish?”
A: Yes. The process has a few different steps than canning fresh fish. To learn how to can smoked fish, check out this resource from Oregon State University.
Q: “Where can I find canned fish recipes?”
A: Bon Appetit has a collection of delicious canned fish recipes. Although they were made for store-bought canned fish, you can adapt many of them for your home-canned fish.
Q: “Do I need to debone my fish before canning?”
A: No. Once you can the fish, the bones will become soft over time and add a lot of calcium and texture to the fish.