The Complete Guide to Safely Canning Seafood to Make it Last

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Canned fish has been an important food source for people throughout the centuries. When you visit a supermarket, you’ve probably seen rows of canned seafood. But you don’t need to buy seafood; canning it yourself is super easy.

Canning is an excellent way of preserving your fresh fish so it keeps longer. Stock your pantry or share it with your friends and family.

To can seafood, you need to know how to safely process the fish so it isn’t exposed to bacteria or foodborne diseases. Here is your guide to canning seafood.

Canning Seafood

What Seafood Can Be Canned?

Many types of seafood can be canned, such as fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. Here are specific types of seafood that can be canned at home:

  • Clams (live)
  • Crab (king, blue, Dungeness, etc.)
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Tuna
  • Oysters
  • Rockfish
  • Catfish
  • Northern pike
  • Smelt

After catching fish, it’s essential to eviscerate and clean them within two hours if you plan on canning them.

Handling Fresh Fish Correctly

The first step to handling fresh fish is placing seafood on ice or in a cooler or refrigerator where the temperature is 40°F.  If you’re not planning on processing the fish straight after, you can freeze it. Wrap it with foil or plastic wrap to protect it and then freeze.

fish on ice

Just remember to thaw the fish completely when you decide to process and can it.

As a general rule, you should avoid rough handling of the fish and never stack fish on top of one another. This can damage the fish and bruise the skin, so you must be extra vigilant when handling fresh fish.

For live shellfish (clams, oysters, and mussels), you can keep them somewhere moist and cold. Ideally, you can keep them in a bowl with a wet cloth for cover. Crab is not as delicate, so you can place it on ice.

Fish is susceptible to Clostridium botulinuma bacterium that causes botulism, a serious disease. Cleaning your utensils and workspace, and keeping the seafood cold is essential when handling raw fish.

Preparing the Seafood

Start by removing the body’s head, fins, tail, and scales (if the fish has them). Remember, you should have already gutted the fish after catching it. Wash the fish. Split the fish sideways, remove any bones, and cut it into 3-inch slices.

preparing fish

You can leave the skin on or remove it depending on your preferences.

For shellfish, scrub them clean and then steam them for a few minutes to open the shells. Retain the juice inside and wash the clams, oysters, or mussels in water with a pinch of salt. Then, boil them for a few minutes in water with a few tablespoons of lemon juice.

Crab should be steamed before opening. Crab and shrimp meat should be removed from the shell and cut into chunks.

When the fish has been cleaned and prepared, you can pack the meat into jars such as half-pint jars or quarter-pint jars. Depending on the type of seafood you’re using, you’ll need to fill the jar with some kind of liquid like clam juice and maybe some water. This liquid should be hot.

Crab should be filled with hot water and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Fish should be packed dry.

Leave one inch of headspace regardless if which type of seafood you’re canning. Clean the rim with a paper towel and rub vinegar on the lid.

Now you’ll need to break out the pressure canner. You can’t safely can fish without one.

What Is a Pressure Canner?

pressure cooker

Pressure canners have been used for years to can food like meat, fish, and produce. This equipment can be daunting to use at first, but once you know how to use it, they’re handy to have around.

A pressure canner is a large pot with a lid that locks tight and a weighted feature that allows you to control the pressure inside. They get extremely hot and release steam when you open them, so it’s essential to be careful when operating a pressure canner at home.

You can find three pressure canners with various regulators for extra safety. Here are the most common options:

  • One-piece pressure regulator
  • Dial-gauge regulator
  • Weighted-gauge regulator

Each model is useful for specific situations. The most popular design for new users is a one-piece pressure regulator, which alerts you to high temperatures with a rattling feature on the lid.

We checked out some of the best options out there if you’re looking for more information.

How To Use a Pressure Canner for Seafood

Every pressure canner is a little different, so be sure to read the manual before using it. We also have a guide to using pressure canners.

These kitchen appliances don’t require a lot of water. Fill with 4-5 inches of water for fish and 3-4 inches for other seafood. The water shouldn’t exceed 140°F but shouldn’t be cold.

If you’re concerned about the smell of the canning process, you can add a little splash of white vinegar to the water.

Place the jars on the rack inside the canner, ensuring a small space between each jar. This will allow the steam to circulate the jars so each container has equal moisture. It’s essential to keep the jars upright in the pressure canner.

You should also test the lids on every jar to make sure they’re on tight so no steam gets inside.

Some canners allow you to use multiple racks to can a larger batch of food. Just make sure there is space between each jar.

Start Steaming

When the jars are placed in the pressure canner, you can turn the heat to the highest temperature and lock the lid. You should leave the vent open for 10 minutes and let the steam evaporate from the pressure canner.

The safety valve will tell you if the pressure is correct, but you can adjust the weights on the regulator for weighted-gauge canners. You can change the temperature so the valve makes a rattling sound on those that are equipped this way.

Fish is typically steamed for 100 minutes, clams and crab for 60. Oysters need about 75 minutes and shrimp needs 45 minutes. Check your recipe and canner manual to be sure on timing.

After completing the steaming process, you can turn off the heat and open the lid. But be careful to wait until the steam has been released so you don’t get burned when removing the jars.

The last stage of the process is letting the jars cool. Simply remove the jars from the rack and place them on a kitchen towel.

Leave the jars to cool on the mat for a few hours, then move them to a refrigerator, cellar, or cool cupboard. It’s a good idea to note down the date so you can keep track of the age of your canned seafood.

If your jars are unopened, they can be kept at room temperature in a dark, cool place. You don’t need to keep them in the refrigerator or freezer. Once you open the jar, it must be kept refrigerated and will only last a few days.

Tips for Eating Canned Seafood

canned fish jar

Once you’ve successfully canned your seafood, you can enjoy this delicious snack whenever you like! Take it on a picnic or use it to make dinner.

No matter how long you’ve had the canned fish stored, you should always examine the jar for spoilage and leaking. The main things to watch out for are discoloration, cloudy liquid, or air bubbles. Toss out any jars with lids that bow outward dramatically.

These are warning signs that the fish has gone rotten, so you should throw it away.

You can heat canned fish if you want in an oven or on the stove to prepare it for a meal. Or eat it cold. There are lots of wonderful cookbooks for using canned fish, including The Magic of Tinned Fish by Chris McDade.

Benefits of Canned Seafood

canned fish

Canning seafood allows you to preserve meat without the same risk of infection from diseases and toxins. The last thing you want to do is ruin fresh seafood because you can’t eat it straight away.

Canning seafood is also great if you want to take it on holiday or make a gift to friends. It’s easier and more practical to transport than fresh fish.

Even if you can’t get out on the water, you can still enjoy lovely seafood meals made from fresh-caught fish!

Another reason for canning seafood is that it preserves the flavor. You can add as much or little salt as you’d like to the meat, plus any herbs, and other ingredients to flavor things up.

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