Storing Fish in the Refrigerator: Tips and Guidelines

The fishmonger is back at work in my local farmers’ market, so I can easily get super-fresh fish to cook for the weekend. The best way to enjoy fresh fish is to consume it as soon as possible after purchasing it. However, you may find yourself in a situation where you can buy it on Saturday but not use it until Monday or Sunday. This is what happened last weekend when I bought some beautiful Boston mackerel on Saturday morning.

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Even though you may be tempted to put your fish on the shelf of the refrigerator next to leftovers from yesterday, this is not ideal. Even the most fresh fish will degrade if it is stored at 38degF, which is the average temperature of a home refrigerator. It’s true that eating fish that has been kept at this temperature overnight will not kill you. It’s not ideal if you plan to prepare a ceviche or other raw preparation that requires the fish to be as fresh as possible.

You can store fish at lower temperatures in your fridge by using ice or frozen packs. You can keep your fish fresh up to three days by putting the fish fillets on top of crushed ice. Crushed ice is always available at fishmongers. It’s why they display their fish on aluminum pans. They keep the fish cool by transferring heat from the fish into the ice.

You should also keep in mind a few other things when storing fish. Be sure to wash your hands before handling raw fish. Keep your fish’s flesh as dry as possible. This is just as important, if you don’t more so than keeping the fish cool. Moisture is a breeding ground for bacteria that cause fish to spoil. The more wet the flesh becomes, the faster it will degrade.

As a result of this rule, it is important to store fish fillets in one layer. By stacking the pieces of fish together, they are exposed to each other’s moist air, creating an environment that is bacterial-friendly. Cover your fish while storing it. The air inside your fridge is very dry and you do not want your fish to dry out.

We’ve found that the best way to store fish is to dry and rinse them with paper towels. Then, place them in one layer in a zipper-top bag. Then, press out the air and place the zip-top on top of an ice tray or plate. Add more ice on top. If you do not have ice packs or trays that fit neatly on a plate or tray, ask your fishmonger to provide you with a few bags of crushed ice. Place the whole setup at the bottom of the refrigerator, in the very back.

You can reduce the amount of plastic waste in this process by nestling the aluminum sheet tray in a layer ice in a perforated container, placing that pan into a larger container, and then covering it all up. The method is not ideal because it does not have ice on the top. It also requires a special set of pans which are more common in professional kitchens but less so in home. You may wish to purchase a set for fresh fish, if you do so often. Make sure that the pans are sized appropriately to fit in your fridge.

If you put it in the fridge, the fish will last longer than if it was kept dry and cool. If you see a piece of swordfish, sea bass, or arctic Char at the fish market that looks good, buy it, even if it’s not something you will use for a few days. Enjoy a crisp pan-seared filet or a citrusy aguachile for dinner.


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