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How to Freeze and Thaw Fish Safely

How to Freeze and Defrost Fish Safely

Stocking up on seafood is not just a smart idea for meal planning but also a great way of ensuring you have healthy protein on hand anytime.

We receive a lot of questions about how to freeze fish and what is the best way to thaw seafood safely, so we’ve put together this handy guide to seafood freezing and thawing. The short answer is yes, you can easily freeze and thaw most seafood, so go ahead and order your favorite fish from FultonFishMarket.com and enjoy healthy, delicious meals anytime.

There's never been a better time to stock up on seafood and cook more instead of dining out or getting takeout. Having a variety of seafood in the freezer means you can skip a trip to the store (and avoid the crowds), and your family can eat well no matter what they’re craving. Get inspired with dozens of our family-friendly seafood recipes.

Can I Freeze Fish?

Yes, you can safely freeze most fish. Fish spend their lives in cold water; freezing is only slightly colder than their typical environment. While you can freeze your own seafood, we typically recommend purchasing seafood that is already frozen and only frozen once using commercial methods to ensure optimal quality.

However, we understand sometimes you overbuy fresh seafood, or there’s a deal on fresh seafood that is too good to pass up, and you need to freeze fish at home.

To learn more about how to select peak quality frozen or fresh seafood and how we ensure optimal quality with our seafood, please see our blog or FAQs.

What Seafood Should I Not Freeze?

While most seafood can be frozen, there are some exceptions. If you plan to eat oysters or clams raw, do not freeze them. Freezing kills the shellfish, making them unsafe to eat without cooking once they have thawed. Only fresh oysters and clams should be eaten raw. If clams and oysters are frozen, they must be cooked in order to be safe to consume. Uni roe is another seafood that should not be frozen. Freezing uni roe can significantly alter the delicate texture and flavor of this prized delicacy. Uni is best enjoyed fresh, as freezing can lead to undesirable changes in its consistency, potentially making it less appealing to consume. The high water content in uni can cause ice crystals to form during freezing and thawing, which can damage the delicate structure of the roe. This can result in a mushier texture and a loss of the characteristic creamy, briny flavor that is highly valued in culinary preparations. To find out more information about what seafood you should not freeze, read our Storage and Handling Instructions.

How to Freeze Fish and Seafood

Freezing fish is easy—place fish fillets or portions in freezer-safe bags. You can also wrap it tightly in plastic like Saran wrap or use a vacuum sealer. Air is the enemy when freezing fish, so squeeze as much air as possible when sealing the bag or plastic wrap. Fish exposed to cold air are prone to freezer burn, drying out the fish and making it inedible.

Pro Tip: When freezing fish, pack portions or fillets into meal-sized pieces so you only thaw as much as you need for that meal.

Pro Tip: We typically recommend using the thicker plastic bags that you would use with a vacuum sealer or with select bags meant for freezers. This will further help protect the fish.

How Long Can I Freeze Fish For?

You can safely freeze most fish for up to 3-6 months. After that, the quality of the fish will start to decline. Fatty fish, such as salmon, should be frozen for up to 3 months. You can freeze smoked seafood, including smoked salmon, for 6 months. Leaner fish will maintain its quality for up to 6 months. This guidance is for home freezers. When seafood is frozen by commercial freezers and held in commercial freezers, it typically maintains its’ quality for up to two years.

Pro Tip: For optimal quality, we recommend freezing seafood for 3 months or less.

Pro Tip: Bloodlines in swordfish or red fish such as tuna will become brown over time unless treated with CO. These are still safe to cook and consume.

Pro Tip: We recommend marking your seafood with the date you place it in the freezer.

Why You Should Defrost Fish Properly

Properly defrosting seafood is essential for several important reasons:

Safety: Ensuring seafood is thoroughly and safely defrosted helps prevent foodborne illnesses. Bacteria, such as Salmonella and Listeria, can multiply rapidly if seafood is improperly handled during defrosting. Proper defrosting methods can minimize the risk of contamination.

Quality: Improper defrosting can lead to a loss of quality in seafood. Rapid temperature changes or prolonged exposure to higher temperatures can result in texture changes, loss of flavor, and the development of off-putting odors and flavors.

Texture and Flavor: Slow, controlled defrosting allows seafood to maintain its natural texture and flavor. Quick-thawing methods like microwave defrosting or placing seafood under running hot water can cause uneven thawing, resulting in a less enjoyable eating experience.

Cooking Evenness: Seafood that is evenly defrosted cooks more evenly, ensuring it reaches the desired internal temperature without overcooking or undercooking and maintaining the seafood's quality and safety.

How to Thaw Fish and Seafood

There are 3 easy ways to thaw your seafood:

  1. Best Option for Most: Puncture the original plastic-sealed packaging that your fish is in to introduce airflow. Set it on a plate with a towel to absorb liquids and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.
    Pro Tip: You can also puncture the bottom of the package so liquid drains onto the towel as it thaws.
  2. Optimal Quality: Remove the fish from its packaging and quickly wash the surface with cold tap water to remove any ice. Pat dry with a paper towel. Place the fish in a sealed bag to prevent any water from entering, and try to remove as much air from the bag as possible. Finally, place the bag in a bowl of ice water and wait until the fish has thawed completely. This process typically takes about 2-3 hours, but the time may vary depending on the size of the item being thawed.
    Pro Tip: Add ice as it melts to keep the water temperature cold.
  3. When You Are in a Hurry: If you’re in a hurry, place the seafood in a sealed plastic bag and run under slow-running cold water for 30 minutes or until thawed.

For optimal quality, prepare after thawing and drain any liquid before cooking.

While some fish can be thawed in the microwave, we recommend thawing with the above methods. Each microwave is different and can cook parts of the fish while thawing. However, if you decide to thaw fish in the microwave, first remove all packaging. Then, place the fish in a microwave-safe container and place it in the microwave. Use the defrost setting and set for 2-3 minutes. Check once the time is up to see if your fish is thawed or if more time is needed.

Any fish that has been thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately afterward.

As with all proteins, you should not thaw your seafood at room temperature or with hot water, as this will affect the quality and has food safety risks. Bacteria’s best friend is a combination of warm temperatures (between 40°F and 135°F) and time (to multiply). This is why we don’t recommend these techniques.

Fish that has been thawed should be used within 1 day.

Special Considerations:

How to defrost frozen fish in a vacuum-sealed package?
Always puncture the package of vacuum-sealed frozen seafood before thawing. By puncturing the package, you allow oxygen to be introduced to the fish, which reduces the risk of bacteria that can grow in low-oxygen environments.

How do you thaw marinated fish?
To thaw marinated fish, we recommend placing the fish in a sealed plastic bag and putting it in the refrigerator overnight or placing the bag under cold running water until thawed.

Can You Refreeze Previously Frozen Fish?

In general, we do not recommend refreezing seafood due to the impact on quality and texture. When products are re-frozen in a home freezer, there will be cellular breakdown that significantly affects the texture. The level of impact depends on the item, how long the product has been thawed out, your preferences, and how you intend to use the product. For example, if your seafood has already been in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, it is already reaching the end of its shelf life, and refreezing it will only further degrade the quality.

However, if you plan to refreeze fish, here are some guidelines.

  • If products thaw in cold temperatures, they can be refrozen, but if products thaw in warm temperatures (>40°F), they should not be refrozen. This typically means it is safe to refreeze products that have thawed in a refrigerator but not those that have thawed at room temperature or have been quickly thawed under cold water. This applies to raw seafood and seafood that has been cooked.
  • We recommend using the refrozen seafood in dishes where the texture impacts are less discernible (ex., chowders, shredded fish tacos).

Can I Freeze Cooked Fish?

Yes, you can freeze cooked fish. Place the cooked seafood in freezer-safe bags and remove as much air as possible. Cooked fish that has been frozen should be consumed within 2 months.

Can I Cook Fish From Frozen?

Typically, we don’t recommend cooking seafood from frozen unless it provides other directions on the package or product pages. This is because it will tend to heat the outside of the fish too quickly, and it will be overcooked while the interior will be undercooked.

Thin fish portions or small items such as shrimp can be more easily cooked from frozen since they will cook all the way through relatively quickly. We also recommend using lower temperatures and cooking for longer periods of time when cooking fish from frozen so it heats more evenly. For example, you can wrap the seafood in aluminum foil and bake it at a low temperature. This also helps retain some moisture while cooking.

When cooking fish from frozen, make sure the fish is properly cooked through before serving. The FDA recommends that most seafood be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F.

How to Cook Frozen Fish

  1. Decide when you want to eat. This will determine the best method to use for thawing. If you are planning a dinner for the next day, thawing in the refrigerator overnight might be the best option since you have more time. If you are planning a meal to eat in the next hour, you will want to use one of the quicker thawing methods.
  2. Pick out the seafood you want to eat.
  3. Decide on your preferred cooking method. (ex. Baking, grilling, deep frying, etc.)
  4. Find a recipe. We have a large assortment of recipes that range from quick and easy to more complex and adventurous.
  5. Gather your ingredients.
  6. Cook according to your recipe of choice.
  7. Dig in!
  8. If there are any leftovers, put them in a tightly sealed container and place them in the fridge within 1 hour of cooking.

Safety Tips

Can you thaw fish at room temperature?
Thawing fish at room temperature is not recommended because bacteria grow quickly at room temperature. Thawing fish at room temperature can increase the risk of a foodborne illness.

Can I thaw fish in its original packaging?
You can leave the fish in its original packaging as long as you puncture the packaging to introduce oxygen to the fish. This reduces the risk of bacteria that can grow in low-oxygen environments.

What temperature should I cook seafood to?
The FDA recommends that most seafood be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F. We recommend cooking it to a slightly lower temperature and then letting it sit for a few minutes so it can continue to cook and reach the desired internal temperature.

FAQ

Do you have to thaw frozen fish before baking?
If you are baking thin fish fillets, you do not have to thaw them, but you will need to adjust the cooking time. However, the quality might be better if it were baked after thawing. If you are baking whole fish or thicker portions or steaks, we recommend thawing the fish before baking to ensure it cooks evenly and maintains its quality and flavor.

Do you have to thaw frozen fish before pan-searing?
If you are pan-searing thin fish fillets, you do not have to thaw them, but you will need to adjust the cooking time. However, the quality might be better if they were thawed first. If you are pan-searing thicker portions or steaks, we recommend thawing before pan-searing to ensure it cooks evenly and maintains its quality and flavor.

Do you have to thaw frozen fish before grilling?
If you are grilling thin fish fillets, you do not have to thaw them, but you will need to adjust the cooking time. However, the quality will be better if they are thawed first. If you are grilling whole fish or thicker portions or steaks, we recommend thawing before grilling to ensure it cooks evenly and maintains its quality and flavor.

Can you cook frozen shrimp without thawing
Yes, you can cook frozen shrimp without thawing them. However, you will sacrifice both quality and texture. If you cook frozen shrimp without thawing them, the outside of the shrimp will cook faster than the inside of the shrimp, meaning you will end up cooking the shrimp longer, which can result in both overcooked and rubbery shrimp. You can quickly thaw frozen shrimp in a matter of 5-10 minutes by putting the frozen shrimp in a colander in the sink and placing them under cold running water. You might not notice much of a difference if you cook at a low temperature, boil the shrimp, and/or if the shrimp are small, but for optimal quality, it’s best to thaw first.

Do you have to thaw frozen lobster tails before baking?
Yes, you need to thaw frozen lobster tails before baking or cooking using any other method. Cooking lobster tails that have not been thawed will result in tough and chewy meat because the meat will cook unevenly. The meat will also stick to the shell if not slowly thawed overnight in the refrigerator.

How long should I store frozen fish?
You can typically store frozen fish for up to 6 months. For optimal quality, we recommend freezing seafood for 3 months or less. Fattier fish such as tuna will maintain its quality when frozen for 1 month or less in a home freezer. Commercial freezers will typically maintain the quality of frozen fish for up to 2 years.

Will frozen fish change color?
Typically fish will become paler and lighter in color when frozen. Once it is thawed, you will likely see the color start to return. Fish with bloodlines, such as some swordfish, or with red or pink-colored meat (due to high myoglobin content), such as tuna, will likely experience some browning of the bloodline or red meat when frozen. This is normal and should not be noticeable once cooked. Poor quality tuna is better identified by an ammonia smell, overly fishy smell, and/or slimy, mushy meat. However, if the tuna has turned dark brown or black and has lost the reddish or pinkish tinge, it’s best to discard it.

 

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