Consider a few scenarios. Maybe it’s the middle of winter, your out in your cabin for the season and you’re getting ready for a meal. Your fresh foods have been depleted and you’re tired of eating the same damn root vegetables and pickled foods and those annoying Mountain House meals you paid way too much for. Maybe you want to get some meat from the freezer. A chunk of beef or pork with some fat is a good way to have a filling meal, but dang that will take forever to thaw. Wish you learned how to can fish yet?
Just then the gene dies, it’s run out of gas! Screw that, “You say, it’s -30c outside!” Maybe it’ll be back on shortly when your wife/husband gets home but you ain’t goin’ out, No way no how. What now?
Maybe it’s the middle of summer and you’re hot. With the sun rising early, you’re also having early mornings. You want to spend more time outside working or enjoying your day. Suddenly you notice that its time for lunch and you don’t have time to make a meal. You also don’t want to spend time inside cooking. But what are you going to do for this meal?
Then you see the salmon on the shelf that you canned last year. Maybe it’s trout, tuna, or halibut. You’ve got a long line of mason jars that are filled with fish on your shelves. Suddenly, your meals are saved! You can pull out the fish, pop off the lid and let it drain in a bowl. The blue and green skin looks fresh and pairs well with some relish, mayo, and other seasonings. Now all you have to do is mix it up and enjoy on bread or a wrap.
Now you can get back to work or enjoy some leisure time. Dinner or lunch are taken care of for the time being. You made this meal just so you wouldn’t have to worry about cooking tonight. Now that you have fish in jars, you don’t let a season go by without doing this preparation work.
Even if you’re not an expert canner, canning fish is one of the easiest foods to start with. You’ll want a few basic ingredients in order to get started:
Fish- fresh preferred but thawed is also an option
Some recipes have oil but you don’t need oil
Yield: No limit- can whatever you have on hand
Total Time: Active: 45 minutes, Canning: 100 minutes. Cooldown: 12 hours
Yield: As Much As You Have!
Total Time: Active: 45 Minutes. Canning: 100 Minutes. Cooldown: 12 Hours
Materials to Gather:
Knife and cutting boards
Pint or half-pint jars- wide mouth preferred
New lids for the jars
Weighted or dial-gauge
Fish- preferred kind
Salt- 1 tsp for every half pint
Since improper canning can lead to food sickness, you should always use a tested recipe that comes from a trusted source. Since fish is a low-acid food you must follow the processing times precisely in order to can safely.
Get your pressure canner ready
If you haven’t used a pressure canner before or you need a reminder, make sure to look at a few videos. These are some of the basic videos to watch:
Weighted Gauge Pressure
Dial Gauge Pressure Canners:
- Prepare your jars, rings, and lids
Lids cannot be reused so make sure that yours are new. Check them to ensure that they’re free from knicks, cracks, and scratches. Since you’re going to be packing the fish in a cold temperature you don’t need to heat up the jars or lids like you would for other canning recipes.
- Get your fish ready
If you’re canning fish that is whole, you’ll want to remove the viscera, head, fins, and tail. You don’t have to get rid of the bones or the skin. These parts of the fish will actually dissolve and you can safely eat them. Depending on the scales, you can scale the fish or not. The scales are edible but will stick to your jars and be difficult to remove.
- Measure and cut fish
You’ll want to measure the fish into the desired size. Depending on your preference, you can cut it into chunks, steaks, or slice pieces from a fillet. If you want to have larger pieces in the jars, measure the inside of the jar. Not all pints have the same height so measure carefully.
Keep in mind that you’ll need an inch of headspace so the fish should be cut into pieces that are an inch shorter than the inside of the jar.
- Put the fish in the jar
Make sure that you pack your fish in tightly. If the fish is pressed against the jar, it can give you a good appearance but the scales will stick to the side of the jar.
- Add Salt
This is optional and you can add as much or as little as you prefer. There are some basic guidelines to use:
1 tsp for every half pint
2 tsp for every pint
- Clean the rims of the jars after filling
- Add the lids and rings
Make sure that you only use new lids. If the rings are clean, then you can re-use them.
- Add water to the canner
Check the directions for your canner but for most of them, you’ll use about an inch of water. Keep in mind that you’re not submerging the jars but the water is there to create steam which creates the pressure needed.
- Put the jars in the canner
If you’re using half-pints and your canner is large, you can stack the jars on each other. You’ll also want to use a canning rack. If the jars touch the bottom of the canner, they may overheat which will cause them to shatter and waste both fish and jars.
- Seal the canner
- Start Heating
- Exhaust steam for 10 minutes
This is an essential part of the process. When the inside of the canner starts to heat, steam will force air out through the vent pipe. By venting the canner, you’ll ensure that no pockets of air are left inside. This can affect the temperature and the pressure during cooking. You’ll probably see inconsistent puffing and releases of steam. This is normal but wait until your steam output is consistent before setting a time for 10 minutes.
- Put the regulator on the canner with a weight for weighted gauge canners or a safety weight for dial gauge canners
Put it on carefully. If using a dial gauge, make sure that it’s loose. This will be located near the dial if using a dial gauge canner.
- Wait until there is consistent rocking for weighted gauge or bring the dial up to 10 PSI
- Set a time for 100 minutes or 1 hour and 40 minutes
This is according to the USDA which recommends fish be canned under pressure for 100 minutes
Keep in mind that the timer should only be started when you notice consistent rocking or when the dial reads 10 PSI. If the dial drops below this or the regular stops rocking, bring it back up to these guidelines and then restart the timer for a full 100 minutes
- Stop the heat and then wait
Now that you’ve made it through 100 minutes, your house probably smells like fish. Turn off the heat and don’t move it or try to cool down the canner quickly. Make sure that the dial has dropped completely or the safety pin has dropped. This indicates that the canner’s pressure is the same as the inside of your house.
- Remove the regulator
- Open the canner
- Remove jars and cool
The fish has been cooking at about 235 F above the boiling point of water. This means that it’s extremely hot and will take some time to cool down.
The jars are not going to create a vacuum seal until they cool to room temperature so let them sit overnight or at least for 10 hours
- Remove the rings. Label and date the cans
Now that your fish is done, it can be stored. Remember that fish contains some natural fats which can go rancid, even when canned. This is caused by an exposure to light and heat so put the fish in a dark place like a cabinet to maintain its quality. It’s a good idea to use the fish up within a year but should last until you’re canning next year’s fish.
Frequently Asked Questions and Essential Tips!
What types of fish can I can?
Most types of fish can be canned. However, a lean fish such as cod or halibut may breakdown in the canning process. They may taste a little dry. If you want to keep the fish moist when canned, it may be helpful to add a tbs of olive oil to keep it moist. The favorite choices for canning include salmon and albacore tuna.
But fish aren’t the only sea life you can can! In fact, one of my favorites is lobster and crab! Here’s a list of other sea food you can can:
Anchovies: These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Bass (saltwater, black): These fish contain moderate amounts of mercury. You may eat up to 4 ounces per week.
Butterfish: These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Calamari (Squid): These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Carp: These fish contain moderate amounts of mercury. You may eat up to 4 ounces per week.
Catfish (farm raised): These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Clams: These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Cod: These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Crab (king crab, snow crab and blue crab): These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Crayfish (Crawfish): These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Croaker (Atlantic): These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Flounder: These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Haddock: These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Halibut: These fish contain moderate amounts of mercury. You may eat up to 4 ounces per week.
Lobster (northern, Maine, Atlantic): These fish contain moderate amounts of mercury. You may eat up to 4 ounces per week. (Note to those who are still reading this article, I fished lobster with a friend and his dad for a season, hard work but having access to the most fresh lobster I’ve ever had made it entirely worth it!)
Mackerel (Atlantic, jack, chub): These fish are highest in healthy fats & lowest in contaminants. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Pollock: These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Oysters (cooked): These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Salmon (wild or farm-raised): These fish are highest in healthy fats & lowest in contaminants. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Shrimp: These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Sardines: These fish are highest in healthy fats & lowest in contaminants. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
Scallops: These fish are low in mercury/PCB. You may eat up to 12 ounces per week.
And their are so many more. Do keep in mind however each one of these will have various instructions/recipes to properly can, and will all require a pressure cooker with variable heat.
- Does my choice of salt matter for canning?
The finer grained salts such as table salt have a higher weight for volume so take care if using volume for your measurements. It may be a good idea to experiment with different types of salt. Try pure salts without iodine or additives for a great flavor. However, some rustic salts may give you an interesting flavor profile for fermented products so consider experimenting.
- Can I can my fish in a boiling water bath canner?
Unfortunately, that’s not a good idea. People used to can meats, fish, and other low-acidic foods this way but we know that certain organisms can only be destroyed at a higher heat so we use pressure. People can get sick from canned foods and it’s not just caused by simple food poisoning. Although you may not have run into this being a problem in the past, avoid the risk.
Thanks for reading our article on How To Can Fish. If you would like to learn more on how to can fish or other crustaceans, We will be releasing a full pdf guide in the near future. In it, You will discover all the different types of fish and methods of how to can a fish.
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