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.
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:
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.
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
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.
I wound up with a giant hog’s head snapper toward the end of last farmer’s market season, and given the embarrassment of food riches we had at the time, I vacuum sealed it and put it into the deep freeze. When I pulled it out to use it this weekend, I realized it had not been scaled. I looked around in vain for my fish scaler, because this fish was covered in big, tough, gnarly scales. And the it hit me – use a pot scrubber.
Well, fishing gear companies should consider rebranding the lowly pot scrubber as a scaler. It worked better than any scaler I’ve ever owned or used.