Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Canning Fish in Jars

Canning Fish in Jars


Producing high-quality home-canned fish
is a point of pride for many Alaskans. Canning, also referred to as jarring, is
an excellent way to preserve food, allowing fish to be stored safely for up
to 1 year before eating. I’m Sonja Koukel with the Cooperative Extension
Service of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This session will provide the
necessary steps for canning fish in jars. Because fish is naturally low in acid,
pressure canning is required to kill dangerous microorganisms. For more
information on pressure canning, you may view our complete learning module.
Research on food preservation is an ongoing process. The United States
Department of Agriculture and the Cooperative Extension Service
continuously apply new research findings to their recommendations for food
preservation techniques. The guidelines in this module may be revised as
additional knowledge is gained that may increase the margin of safety or improve
the quality of home-preserved foods. Consult your local Cooperative Extension
office annually for updated information. The equipment necessary for canning fish
includes a pressure canner with a dial gauge or a weighted gauge, widemouth,
straight-sided jars, 2-piece self-sealing lids, jar lifter, and a sharp
knife. Before you begin, read and familiarize yourself with the directions
for your canner. If you don’t have an instruction manual, contact the
manufacturer for a new copy. Make certain that your pressure canner is in good
working condition. Inspect the gasket. It should be soft, pliable, and free from
defects such as rips or tears that might allow air to escape. The canner must be
airtight when it’s sealed. Check the safety plug to ensure that it is
correctly seated, and hold the canner lid up to the light to be certain that the
vent is not blocked. If you’re using a dial gauge, have it checked annually for
accuracy. Dial pressure gauges may be checked by your local Extension agent.
Half-pint, pint jars, or quart jars may be used for canning fish. Make sure you
follow the specific instructions for the jar size you choose. Procedures and
processing times for the quart-sized jars are different. Be sure to use wide-
mouth, straight-sided jars as they are easier to fill. You will use 2-piece
lids to seal the jars. The flat lid has a sealing compound. The ring holds the lid
in place until the jar is sealed. Lids can not be reused. Use new lids every
time you can. The rings may be reused if they are not bent or rusty. When you catch fish, handle them with
care to avoid bruising. Be aware that exposure to the sun or heat may cause
the quality of the meat to deteriorate. Bleed fish immediately after catching to
increase its storage life, and remove the internal organs. And rinse the fish inside
and out. Keep your fish iced, refrigerated, or frozen until you’re ready to can. The
fish should be stored at temperatures colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You
can use either fresh or frozen fish for pressure canning. Many Alaskans choose to
freeze their catch for 1 year. When fishing season arrives again, they take
unused fish out of the freezer and can it. This gives fish an effective shelf life
of 2 years. Now, when using frozen fish, it may be thawed in the refrigerator or
by placing the wrapped fish under cold, running water. To prepare the fish, rinse
it in cold water. You can add vinegar to the water, up to 2 tablespoons per
quart, to help remove slime from the fish. Remove the head, the tail, the fins, and
the scales. It’s not necessary to remove the skin. You can also leave bones in
when canning salmon. For halibut, you’ll want to remove the bones as well. Always
keep fish refrigerated until you’re ready to pack in jars. In preparation for canning, wash your
jars in hot, soapy water. Run your finger around the rim of the jar to check for
scars or nicks that might prevent sealing. Prepare the jar lids and the
rings according to manufacturer’s directions. Often, you’ll be instructed to heat the
jar lids to soften the sealing compound. Cut the fish into jar-length
fillets or chunks. Keep it simple, using the fewest cuts possible. You can leave
the skin on or take it off. There is some controversy as to whether the fish
should be packed with the skin side out or in. You choose. Either works. Pack the
fish solidly into the jars. Press the fish to fill up as much air space as possible.
Fillets can be rolled before packing. Leave 1 inch of headspace
between the fish and the top of the jar. Because salmon has a significant fat
content, no additional liquid is required. When canning halibut or lean fish, up to
4 tablespoons of olive oil or vegetable oil may be added to each jar.
The oil will add moisture to the product but will also increase the calories. Salt,
seasoning salt, or other spices may be added on top of the packed fish. Check
the Cooperative Extension Service publication titled “Add Variety to Home-
Canned Fish” for more suggestions. After packing the jar, clean the rim with
a damp paper towel or wipe with a dry paper towel to remove any fish oil. Attach the jar lids and the rings. Now,
how tight should the rings be? They should be finger tight. Remember that the
purpose of the ring is to hold the lid against the jar until it seals. Over-tightening the ring may
cause the lid to buckle. Tighten the rings slightly beyond
the point of resistance, no further. To begin the canning process, center the
empty canner on the heat source and add 2 to 3 inches of water.The temperature
of the water should be similar to the product in the jars. Put a rack in the
bottom of the canner. The rack helps to prevent direct contact between the jars
and the heat source, causing the jars to break or crack. Place filled jars on the rack in the
bottom of the canner. If your canner is deep enough, jars may
be stacked. After the first row is in, put another rack in or offset the jars by
placing one in between two others. When your canner is filled, fasten the lid
securely. Lids only fit on one way. Most have an arrow showing where to match the
lid to the handle. Be sure the lid locks completely. Leave the weight off the vent
port or open the petcock. As air inside the canner heats, it expands. This pushes
the excess air out of the canner through the vent port. Heat the canner at the
highest setting until steady steam flows from the petcock or vent port. Once there is a steady stream, allow the
steam to escape for 10 minutes. Now, close the vent by shutting the
petcock or by placing the weighted gauge on the vent. The canner will pressurize
during the next 3 to 5 minutes. When the pressure reaches 11 pounds on a
dial gauge or 10 pounds on a weighted gauge canner, begin the timing process.
Process pint jars or half-pint jars for 100 minutes. Note the starting and ending
time in writing, just in case. And frequently monitor your canner.
If the pressure drops below the recommendation, the canner must be
brought back to the recommended level and the timing started over. For
altitudes greater than 1,000 feet above sea level, contact your local Extension
agent for recommended times and pressures. Now, if you decide to use quart jars,
there are specific procedures to be followed. When using larger quart-sized
jars, more time is required to heat the product thoroughly. The total time it
takes to heat and vent the canner filled with quart jars should never be less
than 30 minutes. The total time may be more than 30 minutes, especially if you
have tightly packed jars, are using cold fish or a larger-sized canner, such as
this one. Once you close the vent and bring the canner up to the recommended
pressure, process the quart jars for 160 minutes, or 2 hours and 40 minutes. When the time to process is completed,
turn off the heat and remove the canner from the heat, if possible. Let the canner
depressurize. Allow the pressure to drop naturally. Don’t apply cold water or a
cold cloth to your pressure canner. After 30 to 45 minutes, check to see if
the pressure has dropped by tipping the weight or checking the dial gauge. Open
the vent when the pressure reaches zero or no steam escapes when the weight is
tipped. Then wait 10 minutes. Unfasten the lid and remove it carefully. Lift the lid away from you so that the
steam will not burn your face. Remove the jars from the pressure canner with a
lifter and place them on a towel or cooling rack. Allow the jars to cool for
12 hours before moving them again. Never rush the cooling process or your
jars may break. Jars should be cooled in an area away from drafts because air
blowing on hot jars may also cause breakage. Jars will seal as they cool. When the canning process is complete and
your jars have cooled for 12 hours, check the seals by tapping the jar lids.
If some jars did not seal, such as this one, you have three options. You can
reprocess the unsealed jars within 24 hours using a fresh jar lid. Now,
reprocessing does not affect the quality of the fish. You may also freeze
the contents of the unsealed jars, or refrigerate the jars
and use the product within 3 to 4 days. The rings may be removed from the
jars when the cooling process is complete and you’ve checked the seal.
Label your jars with the date, processing method, and processing time. Store your
canned goods in a cool, dark place, and and for best quality, use
canned fish within 1 year.

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