Frozen - as fresh as fresh

Freezing food is one of the oldest preservation methods of all time. Yet according to a 2015 survey, 32 percent of Brits think frozen food is inferior to fresh. Of these people, over half say it’s the quality they worry about[1] But the truth is, the quality – and taste – of frozen fish is just as good as fresh. This is because fish is frozen within just a few hours of it being caught – often on the same fishing boat that caught it! In other words, frozen fish is effectively as ‘fresh’ as fresh! Freezing fish so quickly means it also retains its nutrients. Better still, the freezing process actually helps to preserve nutrients. For example, the loss of B vitamins (which are sensitive to temperature changes and leach into water) is much slower with frozen fish than fresh. 

The result: frozen fish often contains just as many, if not more, nutrients as fresh. Meanwhile, contrary to popular belief, no artificial additives are used in the freezing process – it’s the cold temperature alone that preserves the fish. With such great taste, quality and nutrition credentials it should come as no surprise that frozen fish, like fresh, is included in the recommendation to eat two portions a week, where a portion weighs 170g before cooking or 140g once cooked.


Cool reasons to buy frozen


Convenience is one of the best reasons for stocking up on frozen fish. Most white and oily fish tend to come ready prepared so you don’t need to worry about removing skin or bones, or filleting. This makes it a great choice if you’re relatively new to preparing and cooking fish. Plus using frozen fish that needs no preparation is a great time saver (made even more appealing as fish cooks quickly). If you’re sensitive to the smell, there’s the added advantage of no fishy whiffs with frozen, although fresh fish should smell of the sea rather than ‘fishy’. Frozen fish also tends to be less expensive and there’s often greater variety. Like fruit and veg, fish is a seasonal food so certain varieties are only plentiful at certain times of the year – but chances are you’ll always find your favourites in the freezer cabinet.


A new ice age


Gone are the days of frozen fish being limited to fish fingers, scampi, fisherman’s pie and boil-in-the-bag cod in sauce! Modern freezer cabinets are packed with different varieties of prepared fish fillets including cod, coley, haddock, lemon sole, basa, sea bass, plaice, hake, pollock, tuna, mackerel and salmon. 

There’s plenty of shellfish to choose from, too, including prawns, scallops, mussels and crab – often prepared without the shells so there’s minimal preparation needed. It’s also easy to find prepared squid. Of course, all the classics like fish fingers and scampi are still available, together with battered and breaded fish, and fish cakes, but you’ll also find a wide variety of ready meals and ready-to-cook fish fillets with sauce. Many of these products can be a good introduction to fish if it’s not a food that regularly makes it onto your menu. Just get into the habit of checking labels and choose products that contain the least amount of fat and salt.


Be a cool customer


Following a few basic rules when it comes to buying and storing fish will help to ensure you enjoy fish at its best. Check frozen fish packages aren’t torn or damaged, and avoid any that have signs of frost or ice crystals – this may mean the fish has been stored a long time or has thawed and refrozen. Fish you buy from the freezer cabinets in supermarkets should always meet these criteria so you shouldn’t need to worry. 

As frozen fish defrosts quickly, if you have a long way to travel from the supermarket to home, it’s a sunny day or your car is very hot, take a cool bag with an ice pack to keep fish frozen. Once fish has been defrosted it’s not safe to refreeze, so if you’re planning on popping it into the freezer when you get home, it’s important to make sure it stays fully frozen. Once at home, transfer frozen fish to your freezer immediately. If you plan to freeze ready-prepared fresh fish or fish dishes, check the packaging to see if they’re suitable for home freezing and make sure they’re within the ‘use by’ date. If you have fresh fish that you want to freeze, wrap it tightly in cling wrap, foil or moisture-proof paper and store it in the freezer. 

As a rule, you should eat frozen fish within six months, although oily fish is better eaten within three months. Frozen fish will still be safe to eat after this time (providing it’s been frozen properly), but the quality starts to deteriorate with time. Meanwhile, ready-prepared frozen fish and fish dishes include freezer dates on the packaging, so check these to ensure you enjoy fish at its best.


Time to chill out


When you’re ready to enjoy fish from the freezer, check the packaging for instructions on defrosting and cooking – and follow the guidelines. Some frozen fish and fish dishes can be cooked from frozen.

As a rule, the best way to thaw frozen fish or shellfish is to place it in the fridge overnight. Make sure it’s on the bottom shelf of the fridge and in a high-sided and covered container so that any liquid from it can’t drip onto other food. If you need to thaw it quickly, either seal it in a plastic bag and immerse in cold water or – if you’re going to cook it immediately once it’s defrosted – use the ‘defrost’ setting on your microwave oven and remove it when the fish is still icy but pliable. Then cook in the normal way. You’ll find hundreds of tasty and delicious recipes on this website if you need some inspiration.


[1] The Grocer.