With the promise of warming weather in the not to distant future, it’s time for an important chore.
Cleaning your freezer.
Do it now. Don’t wait until a glut of fresh fish comes pouring through your door.
For us, it’s more than getting rid of old fish to make room for the new. It’s an opportunity to size up our efforts from the previous season.
I’m talking not only about how well we preserved our catch, but also how well we planned for winter.
Did we have too much of one species and not enough of others?
Should we change the ratio of species we keep in the upcoming season?
Those are important considerations for assuring a year round supply of Kodiak’s great fish.
Over the years this kind of freezer check has dramatically changed how much and what species of fish we keep. Too much of one species and not enough of another in a March freezer has proven a pretty good sign we needed to change our priorities in summer fishing seasons.
We found a bit of a surprise in our freezer last week. We are careful in how we package and freeze fish to assure the best quality, but problems surfaced.
We found an unusually large number of packages with broken seals.
What the heck? It’s hard, if not impossible, to keep fish through the winter if the packages are failing and freezer burn results.
Fortunately one of our habits paid off. We always date each package while also labeling it for contents.
Looking at the dates on those with failed seals, we learned that they all were packaged in about a one-month period.
A little head scratching, along with a scan of our check register, solved the mystery.
Last summer our vacuum sealer began to misbehave, and the offending packages all dated to the month before we repaired it.
We had noticed some of the seams failing in the first night after freezing, and immediately bought and installed new heat strips in the machine. But it’s clear the problem had been developing long before we noticed it.
Our recent freezer cleaning revealed that not a single seam failed after the day we installed the new heat strips.
But another detail from our freezer cleaning was reassuring.
We ended the summer with 14 species of fish in the freezer, and by March we’re down to more or less equal quantities of nine species.
And that’s good! We have just about enough left to carry us into May, with enough variety that we won’t get tired of it.
Of course, if we’d done a perfect job of freezer stocking we’d still have 14 species left rather than nine. It looks as though we’ll have to put away a little more of the five missing species this summer, doesn’t it?
Why in the heck do we keep so many species of fish?
Because lots of variety makes it easy to keep the fish meals interesting. We simply don’t get tired of eating fish because each meal is so different than the last.
But eating lots of fish goes beyond simply keeping lots of species.
You also need lots of interesting and tasty recipes.
We certainly have those, but it’s even more fun to find new ways to prepare fish.
I grew up in the Southwest with a special place in my heart for albondigas soup, a spicy concoction featuring meatballs and vegetables in a hearty broth. Sooner or later it was bound to happen that I was ready for a batch, but had none of the ingredients for making the meatballs themselves.
So I made albondigas soup, but substituted chunks of halibut for the meatballs. All those spices in the broth along with the assorted vegetables are perfect for halibut.
I have to say, it’s even better with halibut! This is my favorite recipe, whether with meatballs or halibut: http://www.food.com/recipe/best-albondigas-soup-107281 The recipe calls for zucchini, but I add almost any other vegetable I have on hand for great results.
Call it Mexican Cioppino or Mexican Bouillabaisse, and you won’t be far off the mark.
I’ve been wandering further afield with my preferred method for grilling fish involving time on both the stovetop and in the oven.
Here are the basics, about which I’ve written before. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and heat a cast iron frying pan with a little olive oil on the stovetop while you wait.
Season your fish and put it in the pan, flesh side down for salmon, or either side for halibut. Allow it to cook for about 3 minutes, then turn it and immediately put pan and all in the oven to continue cooking for 6-8 minutes until the fish is just firm.
With nothing else added, that turns out the most tender, moist halibut and salmon I’ve ever enjoyed.
But why stop there, when it’s so much fun to experiment?
When I want to really impress company, I also peel large or jumbo shrimp and add that to the pan along with asparagus spears before putting the pan into the oven. Just be careful not to cover the salmon, so that you don’t slow the cooking.
It turns out that the cook time for the salmon is just right for the shrimp and asparagus, too.
Remove the pan from the oven when the salmon is done and plate a serving for each guest. Then lay a few of the shrimp and asparagus spears on top of each piece of salmon and drizzle lightly with hollandaise sauce.
We’re yet to have a guest leave so much as a morsel on their plate.
Most recently I made another discovery.
We were in the mood for pasta with pesto, and I decided to try serving halibut alongside for added protein.
On impulse, I sprinkled grated Parmesan cheese on the halibut after turning it and before putting it in the oven.
What a hit! The halibut turned out to be the perfect compliment to pesto, to the point that my next experiment was to smear pesto directly onto the halibut before sprinkling on the Parmesan.
Now we’re talking about great food!
In the weeks since trying halibut with pesto, I’ve moved on to try it with cod, Pollack, lingcod and rockfish.
It turns out that the recipe is terrific with any white fish.
At this rate, with new recipes pouring out of the kitchen at a fast pace, I might have to rethink our plans for freezing fish next summer.
It’s clear that we’re going to run out well before May, so we will almost certainly have to freeze a little more next summer.