February 10, 2020
Living in the rural Midwest makes finding high-quality fresh seafood virtually impossible. Landlocked on all sides, freshwater fish is available when in season, but that’s only helpful if you like freshwater fish!
The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume fish an average of at least two times per week. Seafood contains lean protein, minerals, and essential fatty acids, making it a perfect source of protein and nutrition for adults and children. Living in a landlocked state forces me to search for high-quality frozen seafood when fresh simply isn’t available for me to purchase.
Where to Buy Seafood
The puzzle of living rurally without access to fresh seafood left me searching for where to buy fish. While it’s easy to buy seafood online, it’s not always convenient for those of us who struggle to plan all of our meals ahead of time. I wanted to empower myself to feel confident in where to buy seafood, so I set out on a mission to research the best frozen fish to buy at the grocery store. I wondered if frozen fish was healthy for me, the best way to thaw frozen fish, where to buy cheap seafood near me, and more. What I learned about frozen fish was both surprising, interesting, and even shocking.
Keep reading, and I will show you what I learned about buying frozen fish.
Processing whole fish into fish cuts and fillets can be expensive. So even when a fish is “wild-caught,” you still have to be vigilant as to how that fish is processed. Many fishers ship their fish to cheaper areas to have those whole fish processed into cuts and fillets. Shipping can take a long time, so those whole fish are frozen for shipping. Then the processing plant thaws the fish at the plant (usually in China or somewhere in South East Asian). Once thawed, the fish is processed into various cuts and fillets and then packaged and re-frozen for sale.
There are several problems with this process. First, frozen fish is not inherently wrong. Flash freezing fish can help to preserve the flavor, texture, and nutritional value of the fish. The problem lies in the thawing and re-freezing of the fish. Re-freezing degrades the proteins leading to mushy and flavorless fish fillets. In the case of frozen white fish, the fish can become grey and soft upon re-freezing. So, this begs the question, can you re-freeze fish that has been previously frozen? It most cases, the answer to that question is no. Re-freezing previously frozen fish ruins the taste, texture, color, and even nutritional value of the fish fillets.
Why Do Processors Ship Fish Overseas?
The most common reason to ship fish overseas is due to increased labor costs in the United States and other countries. Shipping meat to countries with cheaper labor costs for processing is, unfortunately, a growing practice that is causing issues with the freezing, thawing, and then re-freezing of our meat supplies. The process of freezing and re-freezing meat leads to the degradation of the quality of meat available to purchase at the grocery store.
How do Fish Processing Plants Avoid this Problem?
When fish are shipped overseas for cheaper processing, several things happen. For the fish to survive shipping, the fish and seafood have been frozen and kept frozen. Once the fish arrives at the processing plant, it is then thawed out to be processed into various cuts and fillets. We already know that thawing frozen fish causes the frozen fish fillets to become discolored. Some seafood, such as Pollock or Pacific Cod, can turn yellow from this process.
To keep the fish its natural white color, fish processors will bleach the fish fillets to give off the perceived freshness of flakey white fish. Again, remember all of this helps the fishing companies save money on processing. Rather than pay higher costs for processing the fish locally, processors are soaking our fish in bleach to hide the damage done by freezing and thawing the fish over and over again.
Another thing I came across in my research was the term Sodium Tripolyphosphate.
What is Sodium Tripolyphosphate?
Sodium Tripolyphosphate is a detergent. You may see STTP on your food labels, which indicates sodium tripolyphosphate has been used in the processing of frozen fish fillets.
What is Sodium Tripolyphosphate Used for in Food?
STTP serves as a food preservative. Sodium tripolyphosphate in food acts as an emulsifier, which increases the moisture content in food. Processors soak fish fillets in STTP, which results in a substantial increase in the sale weight of fish. Sodium Tripolyphosphate fish is heavier, fetching a higher price for processors. If you’ve ever noticed a white watery substance coming out of your frozen fish fillets during cooking, this is likely the result of STTP soaking. Your frozen fish fillets shrink up during cooking because of the misleading sale weight increase as a result of soaking the fish in sodium tripolyphosphate.
STTP can increase the sale weight of your fish by as much as 30%. So, while you may think you are saving money by purchasing cheaper seafood processed overseas, you’re just paying for excess water, which comes out in the cooking process.
Suppliers might be saving money by sending fish overseas for processing, but those savings don’t get passed on to you with the addition of STTP in the preservation process. In reality, fish processed using STTP may say 1 lb. of fish, but in fact, you buying more like 7/10s of a lb. of fish because of the increased moisture content creating by soaking the frozen fish fillets in STTP.
Sodium Tripolyphosphate fish can cause allergic-type reactions as studies have shown that STTP can irritate the skin and mucous membranes. So if you think you might be allergic to fish, check and see if your fish processors use STTP in the processing of your frozen fish fillets.
Is There Any Fish You Can Trust?
In my research, I found out that frozen salmon processed in China is likely to be trusted. While most likely farmed salmon, processors can’t get away with freezing and re-freezing salmon because the salmon fillets cannot be bleached. The natural pink color of the salmon will degrade with the freezing and thawing process, but bleaching cannot hide this damage in salmon. It’s a safe assumption that frozen salmon fillets have not been thawed and re-frozen. When asking the question of what is the best frozen fish to buy, salmon is probably one of the top answers out there because the way processors can’t hide the damage done to the meat. Salmon is one of the best frozen fish to buy.
What is the Healthiest Frozen Fish?
Frozen fish is healthy. But you want to be vigilant in checking where your frozen fish is processed. Properly processed and frozen fish will not lose any of its taste, color, texture, or health benefits. Frozen fish is how many of us have to consume fish when living in landlocked areas. Frozen fish can keep in the freezer for months, which is essential since doctors recommended we eat fish at least twice per week.
How to Tell if Frozen Fish is Bad?
To find the best frozen fish fillets, you have to become a label reader. The healthiest frozen fish will be wild-caught and processed locally. Think twice if the label says processed in China or other areas of South East Asia. Check the label for STTP or sodium tripolyphosphate. Both of those are red flags when buying frozen fish. The best frozen fish to buy will say “wild Alaskan seafood” or ” Alaskan seafood processors.” While fish doesn’t have to come from Alaska to be the best, it’s important to pay attention to where your fish is processed. All of that information should be on the back label. Again, salmon processed in China or other areas can be trusted because the color and texture of freshly frozen salmon cannot be faked by using chemicals soaks or bleaching.
Another way to check if your fish is previously frozen is to look for frost or ice in the packaging. Frost and ice build-up indicate that the fish has been thawed and re-frozen. Not only is the taste and texture of your fish at risk, but the build-up of ice or frost can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria.
Cooking Frozen Fish
Now that you know what to look for when searching for the best frozen fish to buy let’s talk about frozen fish recipes and how to defrost frozen fish.
How to Defrost Frozen Fish
Let me preface this by saying that you DON’T have to defrost frozen fish. You can cook fish from frozen, but if you want to defrost your fish, the best way to defrost frozen fish is slowly in the fridge.
The day you plan to cook your frozen fish, pull the fish out of the freezer and place it on a plate in the refrigerator. By the time you are ready to cook dinner, your fish should be perfectly defrosted.
Another way to defrost fish quickly is to soak the fish in cold water. Place your wrapped and frozen fish in a sealed zip lock bag and soak your fish in cold water in the kitchen sink. It should not take too long for your fish to nicely thaw out for you. Many frozen white fish recipes even account for cooking the fish directly from the freezer. If not, add a few minutes to the cooking time if your fish is still frozen. 2-3 minutes per side should be plenty to account for frozen white fish in recipes.
How to Cook Frozen Salmon Fillets
In my research, I found myself wondering, “can you cook salmon from frozen?” The answer to that question is yes. The trick with salmon is to make sure that the salmon comes to a safe internal temperature during cooking without overcooking the outside of the salmon. The best way to cook frozen salmon is in the oven. You’ll find that most frozen salmon fillet recipes will recommend oven cooking. The oven is recommended because the intense heat of the grill or fry pan can cause the outside of the salmon to become dry and overcooked much sooner than the inside of the frozen salmon has come to a safe internal temperature.
Baking Frozen Salmon Filets
To cook salmon from frozen in the oven you need to follow a few simple steps.
In a 425-degree oven, frozen salmon will take approximately 5 minutes per ounce of fish. Cooking salmon from frozen only takes a little bit longer than thawed fish fillets. So, if you realize at dinner time that you forgot to defrost your salmon fillets, don’t fret, you can still cook them from frozen.
Buying Frozen Fish
To recap what we discussed, when buying frozen fish, here are some red flags to look out for:
- Processed in China or other areas of South East Asia (Whole fish is frozen to prevent spoiling during shipment to the processing facility, this almost always means the fish will be re-frozen once processed.)
- STTP or Sodium Tripolyphosphate on the label. ( STTP leads to heavier sale weight due to water retention in the fish and can be an irritant/allergen)
- Discoloration such as a yellow or greyish color to your white fish fillets. (This indicates that your fish has been thawed and re-frozen)
- Frost or ice build-up in the packaging. (This suggests that your fish has been thawed and re-frozen and can indicate bacteria present)
What to look for on the Label:
Frozen fish is a good choice. For many of us, it’s the only option. Become a label reader, and you can prevent yourself from buying flavorless and sometimes unhealthy frozen fish. Look for several things on the label when buying frozen fish:
- Check where the fish is caught or farmed.
- Check where the fish is processed.
- Look for ice build-up and avoid frost inside the packaging.
- Be a smart shopper and put the fish back if the color or packaging is off in any way.
- Don’t be fooled by discounted prices for improperly processed fish. You’ll be paying for less fish by weight and losing out on texture, taste, and nutritional content.
Enjoy frozen seafood if it’s how you can meet your daily and weekly recommended seafood intake. Become a smart shopper by following these recommendations and checking where your fish is caught and processed.
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