How to Freeze Fish Without Using a Vacuum Sealer

How to Freeze Fish Without Using a Vacuum Sealer

How To Freeze Fish Without a Vacuum Sealer

This article and video will show how to freeze fish without using a vacuum sealer. I learned this many years ago while cleaning salmon along the Kenai River in Alaska. This is an easy way to vacuum pack your fish without using a vacuum sealer. This video will show you how to freeze fish without a vacuum sealer.


The reason fish or anything else that is frozen for any amount of time gets freezer burn is because of oxygen getting to the food that you are freezing in the ziploc freezer bag or whatever you use to freeze your fish. The great thing about a ziploc freezer bag to freeze your fish is the fact that there is a way to remove almost all of the oxygen in the bag before freezing your fish. Using ziploc freezer bags to freeze your fish also allows you to neatly stack your fillets in the freezer and ultimately saving room.

There is another way to vacuum seal fish for freezing. I have used the Ziploc vacuum bags and tool to remove air from special ziploc bags. This process works great and the special bags are much stronger and have a one way valve that you place a pump over to draw out the air. There is also battery operated pumps that work with these bags. Just another option for keeping your fish fresh when frozen.


As mentioned above freezing your fish fillets in a ziploc lets you freeze them flat. This allows you to stack your fillets nicely. I have had people tell me that they set the flat frozen fillets in a box about the same width as the ziplocs and organizes them by date like a file cabinet. This would work great if you freeze a lot of fish. You can keep the oldest fish eaten first. I personally don’t keep fish in my freezer long enough for this system so I just stack them neatly. I still write the date on them but they will all be gone long before they are damaged especially when frozen using this method of freezing fish without a vacuum sealer.


I remember as a kid always checking out the milk cartons in the freezer whenever mom opened it up. I wanted to see the fish tails that stuck up out of the milk cartons. It was a big deal to touch those crappie and bluegill tails, I guess. The milk cartons were filled with water and whole bluegills and crappies were placed inside to freeze. The water kept the oxygen out keeping the fish fresh. Many people still freeze their fish in water. It still works, but it can take up so much more space in the freezer.


Vacuum sealing your fish for freezing is a great way to save room in the freezer and keep the dreaded oxygen off your meat. Whether you use a vacuum sealer or my ziploc packaging system, fish will last longer in the freezer when you remove the oxygen. When vacuum sealing fish for the freezer it helps to chill your fillets first. This can be done by putting them in the fridge for a few hours or adding ice to your bowl.

Another good idea when vacuum sealing fish for freezing is to dry your fish. This gets rid of puddles of water that can affect the vacuum sealing process as well as the quality of your fish when thawed, as mentioned below. I am guilty of sealing fish straight out of the bowl of water, but in my defense, my fish don’t stay frozen very long to start with as I eat mine pretty quickly and never really go just to stock up on meat. I usually keep enough to eat within the next couple days or maybe freeze a few for later. Later for us means the following week. If you do stock up and store your fish in the freezer for say more than 2 months then I would take these precautions to extend the quality of your frozen fish.


Freezing fish in water is a great way to eliminate any possibility of air in your frozen fish. When freezing fish in water be sure to chill the water before putting it in the freezer. The longer it takes to freeze the water the more water your fish will absorb. This absorption will cause your fish, whether fillets or whole, to become a bit mushy, especially within the first little bit of the surface. Also, set your freezer on the lowest setting when freezing fish in water. Again, the quicker you get your container frozen the better.

A few things used for freezing fish in water is plastic ice cream tubs, small plastic buckets, milk cartons and tupperware tubs all work great.

One bad thing about freezing fish in water is space. My mom, back in the 70’s, froze all of our fish in milk cartons. We didn’t have a deep freeze like so many people have today but it was still the preferred method then. I still know a few people that freeze their fish in water but most wrap them with freezer paper or vacuum seal their fish fillets today.

Another thing about freezing fish in water is that it takes way longer to thaw the fish. The more water in the fillet the longer it takes to thaw them out. I remember standing in a chair at our kitchen sink with a small stream of water pouring from the faucet. I would move the stream around the carton of ice slowly thawing the block of ice. Always used cold water of course.


One thing to consider when packaging against freezer burn is to not freeze fish that isn’t already chilled. Let your fish sit in the fridge or on ice for a day, then freeze it. When warm fish, or any meat, is put into the freezer, the moisture inside it takes longer to freeze. This allows the ice crystals to draw moisture together into larger masses while it freezes. If it’s already very cold, the moisture will freeze into smaller ice crystals much faster.

The smaller crystals expand less due to freeze expansion and separates the meat fibers less which can hurt texture and cause freezer burn. Have you ever pulled a piece of meat out of the freezer that’s badly freezer burned? The edges are soft and don’t feel frozen. That’s because the moisture was drawn to the center of the meat. It froze into one big mass rather than evenly distributed throughout the meat.


Some may argue that the best way to thaw fish is by placing the frozen fish in the refrigerator to thaw. However, there are others who will argue that placing the frozen fish in cold water is the best way top thaw frozen fish. Thawing fish slowly does the least damage to the meat. When thawing fish too fast you risk the chance of bacteria forming on the surface. Never thaw fish using warm water or the microwave. Even the defrost setting can cook the fish around the edges before the fish thaws.

I have thawed fish by placing in the fridge and by using the water soaking method. I will say that these two methods of thawing fish has worked for me for many years and really no other method is needed. When you package your fish fillets like I have spelled out in this article by freezing fish without a vacuum sealer, or if you use a vacuum sealer, leave the packaging sealed while the fish thaws. When you thaw your fish fillets in direct contact with the water, by just putting bare fish in the bowl of water, the fish will absorb the water as it thaws. This will vastly alter the texture of your fish and is why you get mushy fish after thawing it this way.

I’ve wrapped venison in wax paper and allowed it to get cold before freezing, and a year later it still taste delicious.

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About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.

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