How to Defrost Fish Fast and Safely (and Other Frozen Seafood)

No freezer burn in sight.

From salmon to large jumbo shrimp, there are as many delicious frozen seafood options on the market as there are fresh. While a large bag of frozen fish filets is usually more cost-efficient than buying fresh (and saves you a few trips to the grocery store), fresh seafood can be cooked at a moment's notice. So what do you do when you decide at the last minute to cook seafood that's frozen? How do you do it quickly and safely without sacrificing quality? We took a deep dive with our experts.

Seafood Quality

If you think that frozen seafood is of worse quality, think again. Often, fish are filleted and frozen immediately after capture. "Freezing, when done properly, is an excellent way to 'lock-in' the quality inherent in the catch so that when thawed, you're getting essentially the same quality you would have had if you ate it on the boat with the fishermen," says John Burrows, seafood technical program coordinator of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Storing Seafood

Let's assume you're not running a home organizing Instagram account as a side hustle. Most likely, your freezer is jam-packed with frozen fruits and vegetables, ice cream, your favorite Trader Joe's meals, and vacuum-sealed fish packages. So what's the best way to safely store seafood in a crowded freezer? "The bottom of the freezer, away from the door in order to avoid temperature fluctuations when opening and closing your freezer," says chef and sustainable seafood expert Barton Seaver. Burrows agrees and suggests ensuring your freezer is very cold (minus 10 degrees F or colder) and that the door shuts adequately.

Thawing Seafood

Defrosting seafood or lobster tails requires more time and patience than fish filets. Bluzette Carline of Seabest recommends thawing frozen fish in the refrigerator for 10 to 12 hours before cooking. If pressed for time, thaw seafood in cold water for 3 to 5 minutes. "However, quick thaw methods should be approached with caution, as improper thawing can seriously damage seafood quality," warns Burrows. Once the product thaws, keep it chilled until ready for use.

Follow the same safety precautions when thawing fish fillets. Carline recommends removing frozen fish fillets from the packaging and placing them in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours until thawed.

Signs That Frozen Seafood Has Gone Bad

Once your fish has thawed, check for any strong "fishy" odors, which are a sign that it's past its peak. Seaver says to look for ice crystals and dry or discolored spots, all of which indicate that the fish was exposed to air and thawed briefly before re-freezing. As a big advocate for cooking with frozen seafood, Seaver adds: "The best way to avoid having seafood go bad is to cook your frozen inventory. It's a great weeknight option."

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