How to Store Cod Fish: The Complete Guide


The Alaskan cod is a fish of historical renown and has played a part in many cultures and maritime nations. Salted cod has names in many languages and is tied to religious edicts and much loved national cuisine. If you have managed to find a fresh piece of cod, you might be wondering how to store it safely.

To store cod fish, you can use five methods: freezing, salt curing, pickling, smoking, and canning. Ensure that your cooking temperatures are over 240°F (115.55°C) when canning and 180°F (82.22°C) when smoking. Pickling solutions must have a pH below 4.6, and freeze cod below 0°F (-17.78°C.)

Preparation and safety is key to enjoying your cod beyond the day or two after you purchase it. With the correct procedures and guidelines outlined below, you may even extend your cod’s shelf life to a year.

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Guidelines on Storing Fresh Cod

Fish is one of the most perishable meats on the market, and you should store them accordingly. As a rule of thumb, you should eat fresh fish within two days of bringing it home. You can safely increase the storage time to three days before consumption because cod is a lean fish. Bear in mind that if you don’t intend to eat it within this time, consider freezing it.

Between the market and your plate, you should follow some basic guidelines to ensure that your fish remains safe. 

Keep your cod on ice even when in the refrigerator. You may notice that even supermarkets display their fish on ice, and this is because they are highly perishable and may rot even in your fridge. Fish like cod have evolved to live in icy waters, and the warmer air spoils it quickly.

 Fish is the most susceptible to decomposition, rancidity, and microbial spoilage, so maintaining a cold temperature is critical to ensure that your cod is safe to eat. The pathogen growth rate is slow considerably at temperatures below 50°F (10°C), and 40°F (4.4°C) is below the minimum growth temperature of most pathogens 1

On the other hand, pathogens can begin to grow above 70°F (21.1°C), so ideally they should only spend time above this temperature for brief periods.

According to the experts, the ice to fish ratio should be one pound of ice for every two pounds of fish 2. Try to find a cooling rack that can fit in a large tray and ensure that the rack is perforated so your cod can drain well. Check out Amazon for all different sizes of cooling racks, cooling racks. The process you should follow with raw fish is:

  1. Remove the fish from its packaging, rinse it thoroughly under cold water and then pat dry with clean paper towels.
  2. Place the fish on the rack without it overlapping and place in a larger tray packed with ice. The fish should not touch the ice, and the ice should reach just under where the fish rests.
  3. Cover the container in plastic wrap or foil, making sure that you seal it tightly
  4. Replace the ice when it melts if you are not planning on eating the fish that day.

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Freezing Fresh Cod

If you are not planning to eat the cod within three days, you should consider freezing the fish. There are two options for optimal freezing of raw fish, ensuring that the fish is appropriately gutted and cleaned after catching or store purchasing 2.

The first option is to:

  1. Prepare the fish as you would for cooking, cut larger pieces into steaks or fillets, or freeze smaller fish.
  2. Wrap the fish in two layers of sealed heavy-duty freezer bags (the second layer enables easier thawing).
  3. Date and label the fish and store at temperatures below or at 0°F (-17.78°C.)

You may freeze smaller fish or small servings of fish in ice.

  1. Place fish in a shallow pan or airtight container, cover with ice water and freeze for 8 to 10 hours until solid.
  2. Remove from the container and wrap in plastic.
  3. Label and store at 0°F (-17.78°C) or lower.

How Long Can You Store Frozen Cod?

Any frozen fish will be safe indefinitely if frozen at 0°F (-17.8°C) or less, but the flavor and texture will suffer from too lengthy storage 3. You should use frozen fish within 3 to 8 months for the best quality and ensure you do not remove it from the freezer for longer than 2 hours.

Salting Cod as a Preservative

The history of salted cod is interwoven with the history of humanity. From about 800 AD, the Vikings traveled and explored with the dried cod as reserves. Norweigan’s based their communities on the Atlantic cod’s seasonal migrations and brought the delicacy to Europe in trade. The Portuguese and the Basques also have histories interwoven with this remarkable fish.

This salt-cured fish market has endured over 1000 years, and we can still use these ancient methods to preserve our modern-day cod. Salt preserves the fish because it reduces the water activity of food or the amount of water available to allow microbial activity. Salt decreases this activity by sodium and chloride ion’s ability to interact with water molecules 4.

Salt causes osmotic shock in microbes causing the cells to die or to impede their growth. 

How to Salt Cod

Bacalhau or bacalao is a traditional dish that cures dry cod by a salting process. You need to put aside a week or two to prepare your cod properly and ensure that it is properly cured and dried. 

  1. Remove backbone in large fish by cutting lengthwise.
  2. Rinse your gutted cod under clean running water thoroughly and pat dry with a clean dish towel or paper towels.
  3. Spread a half-inch layer of medium grain sea salt in a glass or stainless steel container. Plastic is not recommended as it may contain a BPA called bisphenol which can be harmful.
  4. Lay your fillets in a single layer skin side down, making sure that they are not touching each other and lay another half-inch layer of salt on top of the fish. If you have multiple fillets, you may repeat the same process and layer them above your first layer ending with the skin side up.
  5. Ensure that you complete the top layer with another half-inch of salt.
  6. Cover the container and place it in your refrigerator for 48 hours.

In the old days, the fisherman used to dry their stokvis on rocks of the cold Norwegian cliff faces. You might not have a cliff face handy, but this alternative should be fine. After salting your cod for two days:

  1. Remove your fish from the fridge, rinse properly under cold water and thoroughly pat them dry with paper towels.
  2. Wrap the cod in cheesecloth and place it on a rack above a container. Leave it in your fridge for up to two weeks.
  3. When your cod is dry and hard, place in containers or wrap in foil or butcher’s paper.
  4. Store in your fridge for up to three months or freezer for a year.
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Pickling Cod as a Preservative

Brining and pickling cod are specialized fields that need to be professionally executed, lest they cause harm. These are a means to store your cod but under advisement. One can preserve seafood with acids such as vinegar (acetic acid) or citrus juice (citric acid), one of the earliest fish preservation methods. 

All pickling recipes have one thing in common. They have enough acid to prevent Clostridium botulinum, a potentially fatal fish borne pathogen 5.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture has published guidelines if you wish to use it 6.

Most good fish pickling recipes call for salt curing before brining in an acidic pickling solution. This step removes some unwanted bacteria and slows the growth of others, reduces the water content, firms up the muscle protein for a good texture in the final product, and reduces the level of activity of some of the enzymes in the fish that can cause spoilage.

Salt Curing 

Always cure your fish with salt before brining in a pickling solution, remove bacteria, and slow potential pathogens. Curing also reduces the water activity of pathogens mentioned above in the salting process 4.

This process also prevents certain enzymes within the fish from breaking down proteins during storage, reducing water and firming muscle. Follow the salting method above but extend the salting to 5 to 8 days.

Brining

Place cod in saturated brine using 1 part fine kosher salt to 31/2 parts water. Submerge entirely with a clean weight or a container that has a lid to submerge the fish. The brine and fish should be equal in volume with the top layer of cod skin side up. Brine cures the fish for 5 to 8 days, preferably under 50˚F (10°C).

Preparing Brined Cod

Rinse your brined fish thoroughly in a process called freshening and soak in a freshwater tub for no longer than a day. The flavor depends on the brining’s length, the amount of salt, and your taste. 

Rehydrating Your Salted Cod

For salted cod, first, ensure that the fish is rehydrated properly before pickling. In bacalhau, this process may take 2 or 3 days, depending on the cod’s thickness.

  1. Rinse the cod in cold water to remove the salt and then place it completely submerged in water in the refrigerator.
  2. The following day, rinse the cod thoroughly, drain out the water, and replace it with fresh water at least twice. Leave in the refrigerator for a second day.
  3. On the third day, drain and rinse your cod. Cut a small piece from the thickest section to decide if you have found the right salt level to your taste. It is safe to taste because it is cured.
  4. Repeat step 2 if your cod is unduly salty. It should have a salted flavor that is not unpalatable.

The Pickling Solution

Although your organic acids, vinegar, lime, lemon, limit pathogens, and inhibit bacteria that cause food spoilage, it will not preserve the fish indefinitely 7. The acidity must be high enough to prevent botulism by maintaining a pH of below 4.6. It should never be less vinegar than water in the solution or one or more parts of 5% vinegar to one part water.

Besides the acids, the other components are about taste and do not alter the solution’s preservative quality in any measure. If you aren’t enamored of intense vinegar flavors, you may substitute part of the vinegar for lemon or lime juice. Alternatively, you may up the sugar levels to compensate for the vinegar tartness.

Items  To make about 1 gallon To make about 2 liters
Water 3 pints 750ml
Vinegar 5% White 4 pints 1000ml
White sugar 2 cups  240g
Salt 4 tsp 30g
Pickling Spice (Mixed) ¾ Cup 110ml
White Onion (Chopped or rings) 2 small 1 Small
Garlic (Chopped/dry) ¼ to ½ tsp 2 to 4ml

You may add more sugar for sweetness, but never the vinegar to water ratio. After you place the fish in pickling brine, it should be refrigerated, preferably at 38˚F (3.33°C) temperature or lower. This method should give you a 4 to 5-month shelf life on your pickled cod.

This is a basic solution and you may add other spices to taste:

  • 1 gallon of pickle solution should be sufficient for 6 to 7lbs (3kg) of fish
  • 2 liters of pickling solution should be adequate for 1.5 kg (3.3lbs) of fish

The Pickling Process

  1. Remove skin if desired. Skin prolongs storage life in the salting process.
  2. Cut fish into strips or bite-sized pieces according to your preference.
  3. Place the fish in sterilized glass jars. The jars, caps, and lids, and the tongs for handling them must be placed in boiling water for 5 minutes to be sterile.
  4. Place the fish in the sterilized jars ensuring that you do not pack them too tightly.
  5. Cover with the pickling solution, replace lids, and keep under refrigeration until the bones soften (about 1 to 2 weeks).

Smoking Cod as a Preservative

Smoking is another method that you can use to increase the shelf life of your cod 8. Once again, ensure that you use fresh fish that is whole or filleted and thoroughly washed.

  1. Brine your fish first.
  2. Remove from brine and rinse the fish, patting the meat dry with paper towels.
  3. Place your meat thermometer in the thickest part of your cut in your largest portion of meat.
  4. Place your fish in a smoker when it reaches 100°F (37.77°C). You will need another thermometer to measure this.
  5. During smoking, the air temperature should rise to 225°F (107.22°C)
  6. The fish flesh should reach 180°F (82.22°C) and remain at this temperature for at least 30 minutes 9.
  7. You may store your smoked cod in the refrigerator for up to a month.

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Canning Your Cod

Because cod is a leaner meat fish, they do not lend themselves to canning as readily as the more fatty type fish such as salmon and tuna. You may remedy this dryness by placing one tablespoon of olive oil to each pint of lean fresh when you are canning your cod.

You must ensure that your fish is processed safely at temperatures above 240°F (115.55°C) or higher to destroy botulinum bacteria. You will need a pressure canner to reach the temperatures required. Use standard heat-tempered glass jars of 1 pint (473ml) for the method below. Check Amazon for pressure canners, pressure canners.

Your home-canned cod will last you about a year, according to the USD 3.

Preparing

  1. Cut your cleaned fish into 3 ½-inch lengths (about 9cm).
  2. Place your fish with the skin facing the glass leaving a 1 inch (2.5cm) gap at the top of the jar.
  3. Adjust lids and process.

Processing

The processing times vary to altitude, and The National Centre For Home Preservation 10 gives the process times and pressures as the following:

Style of Pack Jar Size Process Time 0 – 2,000 ft 2,001 – 4,000 ft 4,001 – 6,000 ft 6,001 – 8,000 ft
Raw Pints 100 min 11 lb 12 lb 13 lb 14 lb
Canner Pressure (PSI) at Altitudes of 0-2000 ft, 2,001-4,000 ft, 4,001-6,000 ft, 6,001-8,000 ft
Style of Pack Jar Size Process Time 0 – 1,000 ft Above 1,000 ft
Raw Pints 100 min 10 lb 15 lb
Table 2. Recommended process time for FISH in a weighted-gauge pressure canner. Canner Pressure (PSI) at Altitudes 0-1000 ft & Above 1,000 ft

Why Store Cod?

Why would you buy or even go through some trouble to store it? It’s beneficial and full of nutrients. In addition, it tastes great! Here are some facts and nutrition about Cod.

The name cod is a common name for various fish species of the Gadus genus that belong to the family Gadidae. The two most important Gadidae members are the Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and the Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus).

The Atlantic cod lives in the colder waters and deep-sea regions of the Northern Atlantic while the Pacific cod lives in the east and western parts of the North Pacific. However, the Atlantic cod is considered the superior quality fish and has been a staple in the human diet since the Viking era. 

Though they appear similar, and both have white flesh, the Pacific cod’s texture lessens its value. Although some use the name cod interchangeably, there is a fundamental difference in the two species’ flesh quality. The Atlantic cod has a silver subcutaneous layer that the pacific cod lacks that makes the flesh firmer, sweeter, and less moisture.

Nutritional Value Alaskan Cod                  

Serving Size 100g   % Daily Value
Calories 82  
Total fat  0.7g 1%
Saturated fat 0.1 0%
Cholesterol 43mg 14%
Sodium 54mg 2%
Total Carbohydrates 0g 0%
Dietary Fibre 0g 0%
Sugar  0g 0%
Protein 18g 36%
Vitamin D 0.90mcg 4%
Calcium 16.00mg 1%
Iron  0.38mg 2%
Potassium  413mg 9%

The Alaskan cod is also high in the Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA Vitamin B12, B6, and vitamin E 11. The cod also provides selenium, protein and is lower in mercury than tuna halibut and bass.

Read Next

Frozen Salmon vs. Canned Salmon: Which is Healthier?

Conclusion

With these options, you can extend your cod’s edibility. Choose which method suits you. Ensure that the cod you purchase comes from a verifiable and sustainable source, due to fishing pressure and restrictions on Alaskan cod fishing. Ensure you follow the health protocols in preparing and processing your cod, and you can enjoy a meal fit for a Viking.

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Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. FDA: Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guidance[]
  2. University of Minnesota Extension: Preserving Fish Safely[][]
  3. USDA: How long can you store fish[][]
  4. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Preservation and Physical Property Roles of Sodium in Foods[][]
  5. Wikipedia: Botulism[]
  6. National Institute of Food and Agriculture: Pickling Fish and Other Aquatic Foods for Home Use[]
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Review on Natural Preservatives for Extending Fish Shelf Life[]
  8. ScienceDirect: Spoilage and shelf-life of cod fillets packed in vacuum or modified atmospheres[]
  9. University of Alaska Fairbanks: Smoking Fish at Home[]
  10. National Center for Home Food Preservation: Selecting, Preparing and Canning Meat, Fish[]
  11. Nutrition Value: Fish, raw, Atlantic, cod[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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