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No fish is more smoker-friendly than salmon. This was a secret well known to Native Americans and Native Canadians on the Pacific coast long before Europeans set foot in North America. Salmon is considered as a super food because it is rich in protein, minerals and omega 3 fatty acids, and even back then, they’ve seen its clear benefits.
To preserve their catch in the days before refrigeration, the Natives would cut filets from these fish, cure them by coating them with salt, and drape the filets over a pole above a smoldering fire. Sometimes they built smokehouses with walls made of animal hides.
Another traditional smoking technique practiced in the Pacific Northwest was to butterfly the fish, attach it to a stake, and then jam it in the ground around a campfire. The fish was gently cooked and smoked at the same time.
What has changed since then? Although refrigeration is widely available, we simply can't give up the taste of smoked salmon, so basically not much except the smoking techniques. We love the delicate smoky flavor of salmon, so much so, that we sometimes buy it "in bulk".
If you have ever bought a bunch of smoked salmon because it was on sale or you’ve brought it from a trip, you have probably wondered can you freeze smoked salmon without ruining that amazing taste.
The answer is simple: Of course, you can.
However, how you do it will make a difference between successful and disastrous freezing. Here is everything you should know if you want to achieve the former.
How Long Can You Keep It in the Freezer?
Before you decide to put the smoked salmon in the freezer, you should know how long you can keep it in there without it going bad. When you keep it in the refrigerator (shrink wrapped), it has a shelf life of about two months. So, if you are planning on using it in that timeframe, perhaps you don't have to bother with freezing.
However, if you want it to last longer, put it in the freezer. That way, it can last for six months before the taste degenerates. It 's nice to know that even foods containing salmon (e.g. dips or quiche) can also be frozen, but you have to mind the shelf-life of the remaining ingredients.
What about Repeated Freezing?
Store-bought salmon is highly likely been frozen (at least) once because the retailers find it more economical to keep it in stock frozen to prevent spoilage or excessive loss. The only way to be sure that the salmon wasn't frozen is to catch it and smoke it yourself. In just about any other situation, the standard practice is to freeze it immediately.
With that in mind, you should be aware that repeated freezing can degrade the meat. Since freezing turns the water molecules inside the fish into microscopic daggers that cut the fibrous muscle strands, repeating this process several times will leave your smoked salmon in a poor state. Refreezing also enables bacteria, such as salmonella, to grow and infect your food.
Preparing the Salmon for Freezing
To get a decent taste and good meat after the freezing, you will need to prepare the fish for the process. This includes cutting, packaging and labeling. The most important thing to remember in freezing is that the air is your biggest enemy. Air causes oxidation, which leads to freezer burn, loss of flavor and, eventually, to spoilage.
Freeze the Whole Fish or Cut into Pieces
When freezing smoked salmon, you have two choices: leave the fish whole or cut into pieces. If you are going to leave the fish whole, make sure you use it the first time when you defrost it in its entirety, unless you want to risk all the consequences of refreezing we mentioned above.
It is always easier to cut the salmon into small pieces that match the serving size you or your family would eat within one to two days. Besides, smaller pieces are much more convenient for packing and storing in the freezer.
Wrap It Properly
Wrapping is the most crucial step in preparing your smoked salmon for freezing. If you do this wrong, you may throw the meat as soon as you open the freezer. Improperly packed meat will lose its texture and flavor, and if it lets the air in, it can even spoil.
Before you start packing the salmon, use a sauce brush and gently brush both sides of the fish with olive oil. This will seal in the flavor and protect the salmon from freezer burn that can be caused by air intrusion.
Proper Packing Methods:
- One simple, yet a bit time-demanding, method is to wrap the meat carefully and tightly in two layers of plastic wrap. While doing this, you must devote particular attention to folding in and securing all the edges so that there is no air remained between the salmon and the wrap. Next, pack the wrapped salmon in two layers of freezer paper.
- A simpler way that requires an additional investment is to use a vacuum sealer that works with a special type of plastic wrap that forms a seal around the food and squeezes all the air out before the package is sealed shut.
Improper Packing Method:
- Never use containers such as boxes or bowls for packing the salmon. The amount of air that would circulate the food could lead to freezer burn.
Label the Packages
Surely you think that after everything is wrapped up that your work is done. All you need to do now is to put the bags in the freezer. Right? Wrong.
Imagine this: Seven months later, you need to prepare a quick meal, and you remember that you have some smoked salmon in the fridge. You take it out and prepare what is supposed to be a delicious salad or sandwich, and you see that something is wrong – the salmon has gone bad. Why? Because its shelf-life expired a month ago, and how could you know that when no label marks the date of packing?
To avoid such scenario, use labels to note the date of freezing and the content of packaging, because sometimes because of more layers of wrapping, you won’t be able to see what’s in the bag.
Thaw the Salmon before Enjoying It
If the scenario from the previous paragraph never comes to life, and you actually take the salmon out of the freezer before its expiration day, you will need to defrost it. But don't even think about taking the easy way out and using a defrosting option on your microwave, because that could ultimately ruin the fish.
In order to truly enjoy the fruits of your labor, you will need to thaw the salmon. Softening it in warm water on a room temperature would result in quick defrosting, but it would also spoil the texture of the meat and open the door to various germs and bacteria.
The proper way of thawing is keeping it in the refrigerator at a temperature below 40ºF.
If it is wrapped in more layers, remove one, and put the salmon into a bowl, away from other foods that could absorb its smell. Depending on the size of the package, thawing can last up to 24 hours. Once it is fully thawed, you can either prepare a dish with it or eat it as it is.
If you have ever wondered can you freeze smoked salmon, now you know.
Smoked salmon is an amazing treat, and it is possible to enjoy it even a couple of months after purchasing, that is, if you freeze it using the instructions above. Do everything “by the book” and you will have smoked salmon that takes like it is bought yesterday within your reach all year round. Now, give it a try!