The best frozen fish you can buy
In 1912, a food-obsessed Brooklynite named Clarence Birdseye moved to Labrador, Canada. There, he noticed the fishing practices of the native Inuit: letting their catch freeze in place in the frigid 30-degree air, preserving the fresh flavor of the ocean. After returning to the United States in 1917, Birdseye continued to develop the modern flash freezing process. His obituaries would call him the “Father of Frozen Foods”.
Food production had already been industrialized – consider Upton Sinclair’s production The jungle, a harrowing account of the meat industry, was published in 1906. But frozen foods were on the whole awful. “When it thawed, it was mushy and less appealing than even canned food,” Birdseye biographer Mark Kurlansky wrote. Birdseye aimed to make frozen foods that were second to fresh. Today, it seems like a paradox – frozen foods tend to be associated with convenience rather than gourmet food. But that may be changing.
In November 2021, Kurt Oriol launched Campo Grande, a company specializing in high-end Spanish food products. Raised in Madrid, Oriol noticed a hole in the American market for Spanish foods from his childhood. His company sources a range of items from artisan producers in Spain, from Iberian pork to vaca vieja beef, and to bring American consumers some of Spain’s classic seafood, Campo Grande is offering a fish box with frozen items. such as European and Mediterranean hake. small clams. Oriol hopes to influence customers on frozen fish. “People have a lot of prejudices about frozen fish from a bygone era,” says Oriol. “But when you bring a fish back to the dock and it’s cut up and frozen on the spot, it retains its freshness. It interrupts time.
Campo Grande joins a growing number of seafood companies offering selected sustainably sourced selections of exceptional quality. Their seafood products may differ, but they all aim to convince consumers of the many benefits of frozen fish: it’s high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids; it is sustainable; and with a shelf life (in the freezer) of up to a year, it’s convenient for everyday cooking and dinner parties – planned or impromptu. Unless you’re buying directly from the docks or bringing them in yourself, frozen fish is usually the freshest option on the market. It can be practical and ambitious; impressive and effortless. If pantry-friendly canned fish was the hot girl food of 2021, maybe frozen fish is next.
“Fresh” fish tends to be a misnomer anyway. Chef Erik Slater explains, “Many people don’t realize that almost all seafood on the market is frozen or pre-frozen, from what’s served in restaurants to what’s sold at the seafood counter.” At Slater’s Restaurant, Seward Brewing Company in Seward, Alaska, local wild seafood is a staple on the menu. He often cooks directly frozen fish, especially during the off-seasons of certain species, to offer his signature dishes all year round.
Since so-called fresh produce is more susceptible to harmful bacteria and unsold stock is usually thrown away, resulting in food waste, frozen fish is often a safer and more sustainable alternative. Add in the convenience of home delivery, which most businesses today include for free, and going frozen seems like a no-brainer.
One thing is certain: the global seafood market is booming. Estimated at $113.2 billion in 2020, it is expected to reach $138.7 billion by 2027, and frozen seafood is driving some of that growth. According to experts, older methods like air blast or cryogenic freezing have been barriers to quality, due to slow freezing rates and the formation of ice crystals, which in turn damage muscle tissue and change the color and texture of the fish. But now emerging methods such as pressure freezing, ultrasonic freezing and electrically assisted freezing are improving the industry significantly.
Some companies are already capitalizing on the latest freezing technology to deliver the highest quality frozen fish. Here are a few to consider.
Frozen Fish Suppliers to Try
Campo Grande’s Spanish Fish Box reads like the menu at a Bilbao seafood restaurant: thick fillets of bacalao, meaty monkfish, juicy lubina, and more, all from the waters surrounding Spain. Founder Kurt Oriol hopes to show customers that like meat — think Japanese Kobe or Scottish Angus beef — a fish’s heirloom makes a huge difference. “When you try a Spanish monkfish, it’s different from the monkfish you get in the United States,” he says. “The same with bacalao and merluza – they are different subspecies.”
Attached to fish
Founded in 2017, Fish Fixe, which made a splash on shark tank, offers the opportunity to choose your own adventure. Its customizable boxes contain raw and pre-made seafood, from Norwegian salmon and wild Gulf shrimp to jalapeno crab cakes and creole-remoulade salmon cakes.
Sizzlefish founder Rob Mayo had been supplying fish to delis like Whole Foods for three decades when he decided to channel that experience into direct-to-consumer sales. Its subscription service offers a variety of sustainably sourced fish, like American red snapper and wild Chilean sea bass, in reusable and recyclable coolers.
True Fin will particularly appeal to New England seafood lovers. The Portland, Maine-based company sells sashimi-grade, fully traceable seafood, like marbled bluefin tuna steaks and flaky pollock fillets, from the Gulf of Maine.
Marky’s is a Miami and New York-based caviar and seafood company that specializes in frozen sturgeon (source of the ultimate underwater delicacy, caviar). Founded by Mark Zaslavsky, a Ukrainian immigrant who moved to Miami in 1980 in search of free enterprise, as he recounts, Marky’s offers a range of whole sturgeon, from the extravagant beluga to the more affordable sterlet. The fish are farmed in Sturgeon Aquafarms (Zaslavsky is also a managing partner), a Florida facility that opened in light of the declining wild sturgeon population in the Caspian Sea, to provide a more sustainable alternative.
Alaskan Wild Company
Known for its salmon, Alaska has some of the best managed fisheries in the world; the state constitution mandates sustainable fishing practices. As the Wild Alaskan Company explains, “we only take what nature can naturally replenish.” Founded by Alaskan-born Arron Kallenberg, Wild Alaskan Company is a subscription delivery service with sockeye salmon, coho salmon, Pacific cod, Pacific halibut and Alaska pollock.
Alaska-based Salmon Sisters, founded by Aleutian-born sisters Emma Teal Laukitis and Claire Neaton, offers sustainably harvested wild fish like sockeye salmon and Pacific cod. The sisters also donate a portion of their daily catch to the Food Bank of Alaska “to support healthy Alaskan communities connected with traditional and local wild food.”
Like frozen fish itself, cooking with frozen fish is prone to misconceptions. Contrary to popular opinion, “you don’t have to wait for frozen fish to thaw,” says Slater. “In fact, it’s often easier to cook from frozen than to cook from fresh, because it’s harder to overcook. This makes cooking frozen a great way for new or inexperienced cooks to learn about cooking seafood.” If you choose to thaw fish first, he recommends removing the fish from its packaging and transferring it in a resealable plastic bag, then thaw in the refrigerator for at least six hours or place in cold water for 30 minutes. or.
Slater says you can poach, air fry, bake, broil, or pressure cook frozen fish. It’s a matter of preference. But to prepare a fillet, he recommends first rinsing the fish with cold water and patting it dry with a paper towel, then brushing both sides with olive, canola, peanut or other oil. of grapeseed before cooking it according to the method you choose. (Slater advises against butter, sunflower or corn oil, which burn at higher temperatures.)
Despite the prejudices against frozen food, the products often speak for themselves. “Even our chef customers who previously would never buy frozen seafood have found our frozen products to be the quality they are looking for,” says Jen Levin, President and CEO of True Fin. “There is a growing awareness that when a perishable product is frozen using high-tech methods while it is freshest, the quality can beat fish that has never been frozen.”
Melissa Harrington, founder and CEO of Fish Fixe, echoes that sentiment. “Many of the early users of Fish Fixe were already frozen seafood fans and knew about the convenience and ‘freshness’ of it. But as we grew and customers found us in different ways, produce bags, recipes, instructions and dinner results confirmed that frozen fish was indeed fresh and simple.
In some places, people have already fallen for frozen fish. Where I live in France, frozen foods have been popular for quite some time, largely thanks to the ubiquitous Picard frozen food store. Whether it’s striploin steaks, salmon fillets or blanket pork, Picard products are generally regarded as high quality foods.
Recently I invited a friend to dinner at my apartment in Paris and seized some frozen Pacific Ocean albacore tuna steaks, the best in Picard, finishing them with a drizzle of olive oil and a few pinches of flaky salt. We opened a cold bottle of Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley and sliced the meaty tuna steaks. It was restaurant quality and as fresh as possible – nothing fancy about that.
Caitlin Raux Gunther is a freelance journalist based in Paris with words in Enjoy your meal, Flavor, T+L, Food52, etc. She has worked in restaurants in Bilbao, Paris and New York, and is currently working on a memoir about her time in Spain.