Look beyond the seafood counter to find the freshest fish money can buy.
Where do you look for fresh seafood? Many of us would make our way to a specialty fish market or the seafood aisle of our favorite grocer where a cornucopia of sealife is on display, usually displayed in ice. For those of you reading this from seafood hubs on the coast, you likely have access to fresh-caught seafood that has been out of the water for mere hours or days. But the rest of us must turn to the seafood counter. Unfortunately, it may not be the best place to find the freshest seafood money can buy — even if the fish is labeled “fresh.”
The average piece of “fresh” fish at the supermarket has been out of the water for as long as two weeks.* When fish is out of the water for that long — even refrigerated — its quality significantly declines. The reasons are complex, but in short, unlike terrestrial meat sources like cattle and poultry, Alaska’s wild fish live in habitats only 1°F or 2°F above freezing. While simple refrigeration halts most organic processes (aka decomposition) in beef or chicken, temperatures must be much lower when storing seafood to maintain its quality.
The Science of Quality
In a controlled taste test conducted by the Food Innovation Center at Oregon State University in 2017, food scientists discovered that blast-frozen fish samples exhibit less damage at the cellular level than their “fresh” counterparts. The reason has everything to do with how water concentrated in fish cells reacts to cold temperatures. Have you ever experienced “wet snow,” those large globs of snow that form when temperatures hover right around freezing? Ice crystals that form slowly grow quite large. However, if you drop temperatures rapidly, such as using a blast freezing technique, ice crystals don’t have time to grow and burst cell structures in food — a process that leads to mushy, flavorless food.
Even more telling from the study is that taste testers preferred the taste of the frozen fish over the fish purchased “fresh” at the local fish market. In other words, what we consider “fresh” just hasn’t quite caught up with technology. Many, if not most, fish on display at your grocery counter were previously frozen. If the fish was processed overseas, it has been refrozen, sometimes multiple times. Every time the temperature of a fish plunges, it has the potential to produce cellular damage in the form of “freezer burn” or burst cells leading to moisture loss and an off-taste and mushy texture.
View our Seafood Cooking Guide for more expert culinary advice
The fishermen who catch your fish for Sitka Salmon Shares ice their catch as soon as it’s plucked from the ocean. Then the catch is swiftly delivered to be cut into fillets and “burger” meat. Then it's off to the freezer, where it’s blast-frozen (or as it’s sometimes referred to, flash frozen) to ensure that the fish you thaw for dinner has the same pristine quality as the day it was caught.
How do you protect your frozen seafood once it arrives at your doorstep?
The summer months also bring the greatest threat to freezer technology thanks to power outages. A great way to protect your frozen seafood once it arrives is with a freezer alarm that can notify you the moment temperatures rise. Members have reported losing valuable fish due to power outages or due to accidentally unplugging their freezers. Contractors, children, and pets have been known to unplug freezers or leave them cracked open, which can spoil hundreds of dollars’ worth of food. A freezer alarm will let you know if your fish is in danger so you can save your fish.
Frozen foods still have a bad reputation because improper storage techniques and shoddy shipping methods produce low quality, mushy products. But at Sitka Salmon Shares we are proud of the hard work our fleet puts into keeping your catch on ice until our freezing technology can lock in all those great flavors from our plant to your doorstep!
*One study in the UK found that some supermarkets kept fish on display for up to three weeks.
Shop our shares for wild-caught seafood delivered to your doorstep.
Know Your Author
Dr. Jonathan Wlasiuk is the director of research and writing at Sitka Salmon Shares. He has taught at universities throughout the Great Lakes and writes about the social and ecological impact of business decisions.