Home > Meat, Preserving, Techniques > How to can your own tuna

How to can your own tuna

It’s been a little while since my last post.  There’s lots of reasons for that, of course, but mainly it’s because we’ve come to the downhill part of the season for food: summer.  This blog is about things that are perceived as difficult, or requiring skills that are no longer commonly possessed by the average eater.  But in the summer, anyone with even a lick of sense can eat like a king.  Summertime is easy time.  Even most summer canning doesn’t rise to the level of advanced.  Without even breaking a sweat, you can put up pickles.  If you can read at a 4th grade level, you are able to can fruits.  6th grade reading will leave you with a pantry full of tomatoes and other vegetables.  So there hasn’t been much to write about here, which is kind of a good thing.

But today I took on a little project that, judging by the response I get when I tell people, is beyond the scope of the usual home cook.  A “lost art”, so to speak.

Today I canned fish.  Yeah, that’s right, I made my own tuna fish.  You could do it with any fish, but we like tuna.  And like most other make-it-yourself projects, the taste of the results bears but a passing resemblance to what you can buy. There are other reasons to can your own, too, of course: 1) lower cost; 2) assurance that you are eating sustainably harvested fish; 3) you want to know where your fish came from, whether it be because you want to eat local, or you’re cautious about mercury levels; 4) you want specific herb/spice flavors added to your fish; and the list goes one.  And finally, when you come right down to it, it’s easy, too.

Results of one of our annual coastal fishing trips. The yellowfin are the fish closest to you. The fish I'm canning in the photos that will follow are line-caught yellowfin.

Before we get into the photo tutorial, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: safety.  People are afraid of home canned fish; most of them don’t know WHY they should be afraid, but there is a deep-rooted fear nonetheless.  Turns out there is actually a reasonable basis for concern: fish can contain Clostridiens, a type of gram positive bacteria responsible for botulism.  Clostridiens, IF they are present, are not killed by normal boiling water.

All is not lost, however!  The answer is a pressure cooker.  Many of you may remember your mothers using a pressure cooker for canning.  For many, if not most home canning tasks, a pressure cooker is great, but it’s overkill.  For meats and fish, however, a pressure cooker is, in fact, a necessity.  The reason is that pressure cooking under high pressure creates superheated steam, i.e., steam that is above the boiling point of water.  At 11 psi, the pressure of most pressure cookers, the steam is about 250F, which is above the 244F required to kill Clostridiens.  Temperature at pressure varies with altitude, so the safest thing to do is use a cooker that can get to 15 psi, which assures that you will reach at least 250F at any altitude you might be cooking at.

If you want to make jams, pickles, or can tomatoes, there is more information on the internet than you can possibly sort, and most of it is actually good.  When it comes to canning fish or meat, however, there are decidedly less references.  I have found a couple worth reading, as well as one video from the University of Alaska, which I consider a must-watch before you get started.  here are the references and the video:

PDF from the government of Manitoba on canning fish
University of Georgia National Center for Home Food Preservation on canning fish, complete with tables of pressure required at various altitudes

And here is the mother of all fish canning videos:

OK, now that you’ve read the primers, and watched the video, let’s go through my photo tutorial.

Cast of characters: about 3lbsof tuna, a bunch of sterile jars and lids, some herbs (I used oregano because it's in the garden), salt, lemon rind, and olive oil (not pictured)

Cut the tuna to fit in the jar. Fill the jar fairly full, but leave some room for oil. Salt each piece a ittle before placing in the jar, add the herbs and a hunk of lemon rind, and leave about an inch at the top.

Here's what the jar looks like when it's ready for oil.

Fill the jar with oil. You could use water, if you prefer, too. Use a chostick or knife to work the air out of the jar by working it around the perimeter, then top off the jar. Leave about 1/2 inch headspace.

Here's what the jar looks like full.

Clean the rim of the jar with a paper towel wetted with a little vinegar. This is necessary to assure the lids can seal. Once all the rims are clean, cap the jars tightly with sterile lids.

Put the jars in your pressure cooker and add 2 or 3 inches of water.

I have an electric pressure cooker, so it's easy: I set it on high (15 psi on mine) and tell it to cook for 99 minutes. Your cooker may vary, but make sure you cook at at least 11 psi for 100 minutes. You do not count the time required for your cooker to come up to pressure; start timing when the desired pressure is achieved.

Once the cooker has cooled sufficiently, remove the jars. Allow them to cool completely. Check the seals by removing the rings and trying to GENTLY pry up the sealed lid. If you CAN pry the lid off, cap the jar, put it in the fridge, and eat it within a few days. If the lids are sealed, you are good to store in the pantry for 1 year!

I always end each post with a little plug for our artisan roasting company.  If you want excellent coffee, please visit us at http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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Categories: Meat, Preserving, Techniques Tags: , ,
  1. Joe
    August 25, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Very instructive. Have been giving serious consideration to canning smoked oysters and mussels. Seems like this will directly cross over. Also thinking about doing the native Herring to the Chesapeake Bay. I want to do a smoked, pickled, and mustard sauce version. I am eager to explore the rest of your site. Thanks.

  2. Roni
    January 26, 2014 at 2:23 am

    This is an excellent article. I will have to give canning tuna a shot. I would like to say, though that I do a lot of home canning and I would never test my lids this way. Most lids come with a button in the center. If it pops up and down when depressed, the jar is not sealed. If it is stable in the center of the lid, it is sealed. I have had jars that were not sealed, but I could not pry the top off. Better safe than sorry as food poisoning is not something to be trifled with. Thanks for writing this article and sharing your knowledge with everyone!

    • January 26, 2014 at 3:41 pm

      Good point about the lids. I do test mine that way, too, just didn’t mention it.

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