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Can You Freeze Shellfish?

Shucked Oyster on Ice

Nothing beats the taste and texture of fresh shellfish. While you should try to eat fresh whenever possible, there comes a time when you just can’t finish all of the shellfish you ordered, or there is just too good of a deal to pass up, and you decide to order in bulk.

Luckily, there are various ways to freeze fresh shellfish that will help retain the flavor and texture of the food. Each type of shellfish has its unique freezing method to achieve the desired results.

At Fulton Fish Market we often get asked, “Can you freeze shellfish? And if so, how?” We will answer this question and provide some general tips to follow when freezing shellfish. Additionally, we will go into the specifics of how to freeze and thaw shellfish, specifically oysters, mussels, clams, and lobsters.

General Tips for Freezing and Thawing Shellfish

Following good food safety practices is the number one thing to remember when freezing and cooking with thawed shellfish. If your shellfish has gotten freezer burn, taken on a strange color, or smells off, it is always better to discard it rather than risk getting sick.

You should always abide by the recommended storage times for each type of shellfish. Cooking with expired shellfish can make your meal taste bad and, in extreme circumstances, can lead to illness.

That being said, here are some general tips to follow to ensure that your shellfish stays safe and tasty while being stored in the freezer.

  • Purchase fresh, quality shellfish. Freezing shellfish will maintain quality but will not improve it.
  • Do not allow your shellfish to reach room temperature before freezing it.
  • Always store shellfish in a moisture-free or vapor-free container. This helps prevent freezer burn.
  • Remove as much air from the container as possible before freezing.
  • Always label your packaging with either the use-by date or the date you are freezing it.

Safely freezing shellfish is only half the battle. You can spoil your shellfish if you thaw it incorrectly. Use the following tips when thawing frozen shellfish to ensure that this does not happen.

  • Do not place your frozen shellfish on the counter to thaw. Leaving the shellfish at room temperature for too long will cause it to go bad.
  • If thawing by placing under running water, always use cold water.
  • Shellfish should be cooked within 24 hours of thawing.

As a general rule, the less time shellfish is frozen, the more it will retain its original quality. This means that shellfish that have only been frozen for a week will probably taste better than frozen shellfish that are nearing their expiration date.

Aside from following the above general tips, each type of shellfish has its own tricks to help keep it fresher and tasting better while frozen.

How to Freeze Live Oysters

Live oysters are delicious, and you should eat them fresh whenever you have the opportunity. However, sometimes you have just too many oysters to eat at once. This is when freezing them comes in handy.

Before we discuss the methods for freezing oysters, it is important to note that you should never eat oysters raw once they have been frozen. Freezing the oysters kills them, making them unsafe to eat without cooking them after you thaw them.

There are two different ways to freeze oysters: in the shell and shucked.

Freezing Fresh Oysters in Their Shells

Oysters can be frozen directly in their shells if done properly. Follow the steps below to safely freeze fresh oysters in their shell:

  1. Thoroughly clean the oysters taking care to remove sand and mud from the shells.
  2. Tap on the oyster shell to see if it closes or tightens. Any that do not close are no longer alive and should be discarded
  3. Discard any oysters that do not close or those with broken shells.
  4. Place oysters in an air-tight freezer bag and store them in the freezer.

This is the easier of the two ways to freeze oysters. The upside is other than checking to see if the oysters are alive, there is little to no work involved. The downside is that you will have to shuck the oysters after thawing them.

Freezing Shucked Oysters

If you don’t have a lot of space in your freezer or want to save time later on, you can shuck the oysters before freezing them. This process is a little more time-consuming and requires more effort. To freeze shucked oysters, you will need to:

  1. Tap on the oyster shell to see if it closes or tightens. Any that do not close are no longer alive and should be discarded.
  2. Hold the oysters over a bowl when shucking it to ensure that you save the oyster liquor.
  3. Separate the oyster liquor from the oyster meat.
  4. Rinse the meat to remove any lingering residue by using a strainer.
  5. Strain the oyster liquor to remove sand or dirt.
  6. Place the oyster meat into a sealed plastic bag and completely submerge the oysters in the oyster liquor. If there is not enough liquor to cover the oysters, add a little bit of water.

It’s best to keep at least a half-inch of air in the bag to allow for expansion during the freezing process. It’s okay if you need to split the oysters up over two or more air-tight freezer bags. For instructions on how to shuck oysters, check out our How to Shuck Oysters blog.

How to Thaw Frozen Oysters

Fresh frozen oysters can be kept frozen for three to six months before they expire. As a reminder, you should not eat a raw oyster that has been frozen and then thawed. Therefore, you should plan to use the frozen oysters in soups or dishes that call for them to be cooked.

To thaw frozen oysters, take them out of the freezer and let them sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours. You should use thawed frozen oysters within one day of thawing, or else they will go bad.

One thing to note is that thawed oysters will have softer flesh due to the freezing and thawing process. You should not refreeze a thawed oyster, as freezing and thawing it again will significantly alter the flavor and texture.

How to Freeze Live Mussels

Mussels are an extremely versatile (and delicious) seafood. It’s not uncommon to freeze some leftover mussels to use in a different dish later. Fresh mussels can be frozen either cooked or uncooked.

Freezing Live Mussels (Uncooked)

If you intend to freeze the mussels before cooking them, it is important to freeze them within a day or two to maintain freshness. However, before freezing live mussels, you need to clean them using the following steps:

  1. Discard any mussels with cracked shells, and any mussels that are already open. Tap the shell before discarding. If it closes by itself, the mussel is still alive.
  2. Give the mussels a salt bath to expel any sand or grit from inside the shell. Soak the mussels in a large bowl of fresh, cold water mixed with salt (½ cup kosher salt to 6 cups water for 2 pounds of mussels).
  3. After 15 minutes, remove the mussels from the cold water, being careful not to agitate the bowl and risk getting the expelled sand back into the mussels.
  4. Pull out any beards (fibers sticking out of the shell) by holding a mussel in one hand and pulling the beard from the hinged end with your other hand. The beard will usually come out easily.
  5. Finally, give the shells a quick scrub to remove any debris or barnacles.

Once you’ve cleaned the mussels, place them in an air-tight freezer bag. You may want to double up on the bags to ensure that the mussels do not get freezer burn. You can store frozen mussels in the freezer for up to four months before they go bad.

Freezing Cooked Mussels

You may opt to cook your live mussels prior to freezing them. The benefit of cooking mussels before freezing is that it cuts down on time when you go to reheat them. Cooking the mussels prior to freezing allows you to be able to store them in the freezer for a longer period of time. To freeze cooked mussels, take the following steps:

  1. Follow the above cleaning instructions prior to cooking.
  2. Use your preferred method for cooking mussels.
  3. Wrap your mussels in aluminum foil.
  4. Place the foil-wrapped mussels in a tightly sealed plastic bag and place them in the freezer.

This applies to both cooked mussels in shell and out of shell. You can store cooked mussels in the freezer for up to six months before they expire.

How to Thaw Frozen Mussels

When you are ready to use your frozen mussels, simply take them out of the freezer and place them in the refrigerator overnight to allow them to thaw. You should use the mussels within 4 to 5 days of thawing and should never refreeze frozen mussels that have thawed.

If you are getting close to the end of the recommended freezing period for the mussels, you can check to see if they are still good after they thaw by their smell. Fresh live mussels should have a very distinct oceanic smell even after being frozen. If the mussels smell a little off, it is best to discard them as they have potentially gone bad.

How to Freeze Live Clams

Unlike mussels, it’s best not to cook fresh clams before freezing them to retain their natural texture and taste. However, you do have the option of freezing clams inside or outside of their shells.

Freezing Fresh Clams in the Shell

The process of freezing fresh clams in their shells is extremely simple. Take the following steps to ensure that they are stored safely:

  1. Discard any clams that are open, as this is a sign that the clam has died. Tap the shell before discarding. If it closes by itself, the clam is still alive.
  2. Clean or purge the clams of sand and sediment prior to freezing. We recommend soaking clams in salted water in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  3. Place the clams in an air-tight container.
  4. If you’re using a bag, make sure to remove any excess air.
  5. Seal the container and place it in the freezer.

That’s it! Frozen clams in their shells can last up to four months in the freezer without going bad. The only downside to freezing fresh clams in their shell is that it takes up quite a bit of space. So if you are tight on freezer space, it may be better to remove the shell prior to freezing.

Freezing Shucked Clams Out of Their Shells

Freezing clams out of their shells is a little bit more time-consuming, but it does end up saving you a lot of space in your freezer. To freeze shucked clams, take the following steps:

  1. Shuck the clams.
  2. Run the clam meat under cold water. Wash each piece individually to ensure they are cleaned thoroughly.
  3. Place the clam meat in an air-tight container and place it in the freezer.

Of course, nothing will beat a cooked clam that has never been frozen, but clams can retain the same texture and flavor if frozen properly. Frozen clam meat stays good in the freezer for up to four months.

How to Thaw Frozen Clams

Frozen clams thaw extremely quickly. If you shucked your clams prior to freezing them,  then you can place them directly in your dish. However, if you opted to freeze the clams in their shells, then some extra thawing time is needed.

The best method for thawing frozen clams is to put them in the refrigerator and allow six to eight hours for them to thaw.

If you are in a rush, you can take your clams directly out of the freezer and run them under cold water in the sink. This can take upwards of twenty minutes, but it is faster than letting them thaw in the refrigerator.

Note: Clams will sometimes open during the thawing process, and if they are open, they should not be expected to re-close. After freezing/thawing, all the clams need to be cooked before consuming.

How to Freeze Live Lobsters

Due to their texture and high moisture content in the meat, lobsters freeze extremely well. The only caveat is that you cannot place a live lobster directly into the freezer like some of the other shellfish mentioned above.

The issue with placing live lobster directly into the freezer becomes evident during the thawing process. As the lobster begins to thaw, the meat expands and attaches to the shell. Unfortunately, once this happens, it is almost impossible to separate the meat from the shell. Instead, you should either cook your lobster or blanch it before putting it in the freezer.

Freezing Live Lobsters Using the Blanching Method

Blanching lobsters prior to freezing them is the quickest way to safely freeze a lobster. You can complete this method by taking the following steps:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Place the lobster into the boiling water for approximately one minute.
  3. Immediately place the blanched lobster in an ice bath for at least 15 minutes. This will stop the cooking process.
  4. Place the lobster in an air-tight freezer bag.
  5. Place the bag in the freezer allowing space for circulation to avoid freezer burn.

Using this method, the lobster will stay fresh in the freezer between 9 and 12 months. By leaving the lobster meat in the shell, you are leaving an added layer of protection to keep the meat fresh and flavorful.

Freezing Cooked Lobster Meat

Sometimes you don’t have enough room in your freezer to store a whole frozen lobster, or you have some leftover lobster meat from a cooked lobster that you don’t want to waste. The good news is that you can safely store cooked lobster meat in the freezer using the following steps:

  1. Allow the lobster meat to cool completely.
  2. Remove the lobster meat from the shell.
  3. Pour milk over the lobster.
  4. Move the mixture of milk and lobster to a freezer-safe bag.
  5. Squeeze the air out of the bag and tightly seal it.
  6. Wrap the bag in a sheet of newspaper, ensuring that no portion of the bag is exposed.
  7. Tap the newspaper to ensure that it does not come undone.

Frozen cooked lobster meat does not keep as long as a blanched lobster. You should only store the cooked lobster meat in the freezer for up to three months.

Thawing Lobster

To thaw frozen lobsters, simply take them out of the freezer and place them in the refrigerator overnight to allow them to thaw. It's that simple.

General Takeaways When Freezing Shellfish

While there is a lot of crucial information in this article to ensure that your shellfish remains fresh and tastes good after being thawed, the most important takeaway is to always practice proper food safety. As long as you use proper judgment and follow the above tips, you should be able to prepare a great-tasting meal from thawed shellfish.

If you freeze fresh shellfish in their shells, as they thaw, their shells should open. This applies to clams, mussels, and oysters. This is typically because the muscle keeping them closed starts to relax as it thaws. They may also open while being frozen or while cooking. If they don’t open they are still safe to eat as long as the shell was closed prior to freezing.

We do not recommend refreezing shellfish that was previously frozen.

We typically recommend freezing shellfish for up to three months.

Cook all shellfish after freezing and do not consume raw.

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