When is the best time to eat Alaska Seafood?
Contrary to popular belief, time out of water has little to do with "freshness." What makes the biggest difference is what fishermen do on the boat in terms of handling. For example, did they bleed and gut the fish correctly? Did they ice it quickly with high-quality flake ice? How quickly did it make it to the plant to be processed and blast-frozen? From there, it's all about maintaining a cold chain--keeping the fish in a frozen state until it makes it to the customer.
As Alaskans and fishermen, we eat our Alaska seafood year-round. Food preservation and carefully storing the bounties of one season to enjoy the rest of the year is a tradition that is thousands of years old in our part of the world. We eat our Alaska Gold Seafood throughout the year, and you should too.
The two essential aspects that keep seafood in good condition are how a fish is handled by the fisherman once it comes out of the water and maintaining the cold chain until that fish reaches your plate. At Alaska Gold, we hang our hats on quality and we do everything possible to keep fish in the best condition until they reach our customers. Our fishermen are particularly finicky about maintaining quality because of the pride in ownership in the co-op. Fishermen exert peer pressure on their fellow fleet members to adhere to strict quality standards.
What our fishermen do on the boat is key to quality. Observe this perfectly bled and gutted salmon.
The season for halibut and sablefish runs from March through December. This is a long season and allows the fishermen to work as they work best: on their own schedule and with attention given to quality. It also helps safety because when there were shorter seasons, fishermen were more inclined to go out in bad weather, so they could make a living.
As it works on a quota system, fishermen can catch their share of the quota any time they’d like during those 10 months, allowing them to pick “weather windows” and times that work best for them. At our fishermen-owned seafood processing plant in Sitka, we have a steady stream of fishermen delivering their halibut and sablefish from March through December.
Salmon season takes place primarily in the summer, though there are limited openers throughout the rest of the year. With the bulk of salmon caught during the summer months, it leaves freezing technologies to keep the fish in good condition throughout the year. And when done properly, you can have excellent frozen wild salmon throughout the year.
Our Seafood Freezing Technologies
Because of advanced freezing technologies, we are able to keep seafood “fresh” year-round. The key is blast-freezing the fish as quick and as cold as possible. Nick Mackie is our Chief Engineer. He spent 5 years in the Navy, 4 of those years on nuclear submarines in charge of navigation systems. He is a jack of all trades when it comes to fixing things and working with advanced technologies. He recently gave me a tour of our freezer room. There is a total of 1300 horsepower on the compressors on our freezers. These freezers can get down to 40 degrees below zero. And quickly. Pulling the heat off the fish and getting them to these low internal temperatures of 30 degrees below zero is absolutely key to maintaining the “cold chain” and consequently our high standards of quality.
What happens on the boat, once again, also is key. It might sound like a tiny detail, but our processing plant’s ice machine makes the best ice in Alaska. And this quality ice makes the difference. The high-quality flake ice is perfect to get into all of the crevices of a salmon’s belly. The flake ice is also the same salinity as the ocean, another aspect that maintains the firmness of the fish. This flake ice keeps the fish at an internal temperature of around 30 degrees until it makes it to our plant where it is blast frozen.
Why Frozen Seafood is Best
It used to be that American consumers regarded frozen seafood as not as high quality as “fresh” or never-been-frozen seafood.. Over the years, American consumers have finally realized that frozen seafood can in many instances be much better than fresh-not-frozen seafood, and this is for a variety of reasons that we address here. In essence, it’s not time (or more specifically time out of water) that makes a fish taste “fresh,” but rather catch and handling methods that make the biggest difference. What a fisherman does on their boat is paramount to the fish’s quality and maintaining a good shelf life for the fish. Our fishermen quickly dress the fish, removing the guts and pressure bleeding, or removing the blood with a micro-pipette. (Blood and guts are what gives fish that off-flavor that we associate with fish that isn’t fresh, and most fishing operations do not do this on the boat.) Then, the cold chain must be maintained from boat to plate. In other words, the fish must be kept in a frozen state until it reaches the customer. Our Alaska Gold Seafood customers know that when we deliver to their homes we use a lot of dry ice to keep the fish frozen until arrival, using the sturdiest insulators as well.
Blast-freezing seafood not only locks in the great flavor of the fish, but all of the nutrients. It means that the degradation or spoiling process is stopped, and the fish are as “fresh” as when they left the ocean. Indeed, in blind taste tests, consumers prefer frozen seafood. But it’s not just a qualitative degree of quality that consumers notice. Frozen seafood’s superiority in quality can be measured objectively, which Ecotrust did with the help of one of our partners at our Sitka processing plant. Using a Seafood Analytics’ Seafood-Certified Quality Reader (CQR) to measure for seafood quality and freshness, for both coho salmon and sablefish, all things being equal the flash-frozen fish came out with superior ratings and measurably less degradation once they make it to the grocery store.
Lots of our customers commend our fish as very "fresh." And yes it tastes fresh. But what's interesting is that those of us within the industry make the false dichotomy of frozen vs. fresh. Advances in flash-freezing technology have greatly improved the quality of fresh fish. Freezing seafood immediately after harvest kills bacteria that can cause rapid deterioration. Freezing also preserves our seafood's nutritional value.
How long can you keep seafood in the freezer?
Not uncommonly customers ask us how long can they keep fish in the freezer. We address that question here: First, there is no printed expiration date on our fish. The frozen fish we offer for sale on our website has been blast frozen at 40 degrees below zero. It is stored at -10 F or below in commercial freezers. It is vacuum-sealed in very sturdy packs. We use the sturdiest vacuum film available. Stored at this temperature with no temperature changes, some claim that the fish will be fine to eat in two, even three years. What will ruin the quality of a fish isn’t time in the freezer per se but temperature change. This is one of the reasons why we recommend eating the frozen fish within 3 to 6 months in your home freezer to be safe. Most people open and close their freezer doors frequently. This stresses the frozen seafood. And is one reason we recommend getting a dedicated deep freeze that you only open to get out items, like frozen seafood, every so often. Also, with time, the vacuum seals do weaken and that can be a factor in the degradation of the fish as well, but with our stout vacuum seal this leakage shouldn’t be a problem.
The beauty of frozen seafood is that it allows you enjoy the bounties of a single season, in this case our wild salmon, all throughout the year. And with the convenience of just pulling these out of the freezer as needed, this makes our Alaska Gold Seafood the perfect option for those looking to serve quality wild Alaska seafood at home.