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Thread: Insulating fish boxes

  1. #1

    Default Insulating fish boxes

    It's 24 hrs (give or take) from getting the boxes out of the freezer storage on the peninsula to getting them back in the freezer here at home in MN. In the past, the waxed cardboard boxes (with no extra insulation or gel packs) have done a pretty good job, with just a little edge thawing, but nothing too much. This trip I got the styrofoam lined boxes from 2 packers, and figured they'd be at least as good as the others. Not quite... of the 3 boxes I brought home, on 2 of them the styrofoam had broken, no doubt from rough airline handling, and there was more thawing than in the past. Still not all that bad, and I was thawing the majority of it right away anyway for the canner, but it did get me thinking...The old waxed cardboard did a good job, could I line them with something to add just a bit more insulation? I don't really want to add gel packs, less fish weight then obviously. What about some kind of insulating wrap? So far I've found 3/16 inch thick foil lined bubble wrap...flexible, cheap enough...any thoughts? Not sure if it would be reusable or disposable, but it's cheap enough so I don't care. I thought about lining the boxes with foil, or maybe those cheap "survival space blankets" neither of which do anything more than reflect back the temp of the product, but maybe that would be enough. Thoughts?

  2. #2
    Member Col. F Rodder's Avatar
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    In 6 trips I have never had a problem with the styro boxes, probably 20 total boxes. Fish frozen, hard as a rock and never broken. I think the secret is that they have to be packed full with no extra space.
    Fedex did crack one that was shipped from Soldotna to Fl last year but I would think that is just too many multiple switches.

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    Member fishNphysician's Avatar
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    Frozen salmon is horrible.

    If taking it home frozen to be later canned... OK fine.

    But NOTHING can compare to fresh

    I would urge outsiders to take no more than they can eat (or immediately share with fam/friends) FRESH. For me, that means keeping no take-home fish for myself until the last day or two of fishing.

    Last year my party gave away 100 plus sockeye to locals. My buddy suggested keeping enough fish early in the trip to take home ONE 50# box of frozen reds which we ended up splitting. Fish were immediately processed with utmost care and vaccuum sealed in 1/3 carcass "roasts" to minimize exposure of flesh. Packaged in an insulated bubble-wrap wax box and arrived rock hard in WA after a short flight, total time freezer to freezer 6 hours.

    First time I'd brought frozen fish back home in over a decade.

    Now I remember why. Never again.
    "Let every angler who loves to fish think what it would mean to him to find the fish were gone." Zane Grey
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    We have never had issues with the styrofoam lined "fish boxes" on our trips. Usually we are coming out of Valdez and drive to Anchorage before flying out as Valdez is usually the last leg of our trip for silvers. That usually puts it pretty close to 24 hours and we are usually fine with minimal thawing.

    As far as whether frozen is worse than fresh, of course it isn't as good but I can't say that it is horrible. We cooked sockeye on the river last year and it doesn't get any fresher. I can't really say it is that different from what I have after thawing some frozen fish. Now, we do take extra care and chamber seal the fish when we get home to keep them as fresh as possible. I just pulled some out today to give to my father from last August and they were still well sealed and bright red.

    Also, why is it that outsiders should not keep and freeze salmon but it is apparently alright for residents? I appreciate that the fisheries are a natural resource for those that live in Alaska but I don't see the argument that when a resident freezes salmon, it is okay but when an outsider does it is horrible. That would be like me telling someone from Alaska who is down here in a deer hunt to only keep what they can eat fresh and to donate the other hundred pounds or more since it isn't as good frozen as it is fresh.

  5. #5

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    The tricks we've found for the styro boxes are pretty simple, but work well. Number one, never fill them partway full. If you have to add styro blocks or peanuts to keep the load from shifting, so be it. That really limits the instances of breakage.

    Other thing is to go ahead and put in a plastic liner, just like you did with the old wax boxes. If there's a break and you get a "thermal leak" as a result, they'll still keep as well as the old wax boxes with no insulation. In fact they work better in case of a break.

    My wife just flew cross country to a state in the southeast. She was 22 hours in transit with layovers, got off in 95 degree heat and drove 2 hours. No thawing whatsoever. It was a 50# box filled to a total weight of 49# with some styro peanuts dumped in after we closed the plastic bag liner, and before adding the styro lid.

  6. #6

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    Interesting idea with the liner. Where are you getting them? As I posted, we haven't have an issue yet but I do like the idea of the liner as a little more insurance just in case.

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    As I remember the waxed boxes we used to get came with a plastic liner...really just a sheet of plastic, any plastic would duplicate that, and better than nothing for sure. I was just trying to figure out something a little better. Our boxes were 47-49 lbs...packed right. I was surprised to see the styro breakage myself. As for experts/preachers "suggesting" we only take what we can eat fresh...yeah, I'll do that as soon as I move to AK! For now, canning, useing my chamber Vac packer, and figuring out the best ways to get them home in the best condition will have to do.

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    One trick I use with the Styrofoam is to tape the lid on by taping all the way around the seam. This seals the seam from air movement. Once I put the foam in the cardboard I tape all those seams as well, again limit air movement. Then I usually tape around the box 3 times. I've take probably 10 boxes to Washington this way over the years and I've never had one broken and I can easily leave them 24 hours in 70 degree weather without worry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by colonel00 View Post

    As far as whether frozen is worse than fresh, of course it isn't as good but I can't say that it is horrible. We cooked sockeye on the river last year and it doesn't get any fresher. I can't really say it is that different from what I have after thawing some frozen fish.
    Maybe it's just the fish snob in me coming out

    Seriously, the 2 biggest hangups I have with frozen fish are:

    1) inability of the flesh to retain moisture after being frozen. Yes, that little pool of juice siting in your vac-bag after thawing out frozen salmon? That's the juice that SHOULD be inside your fish! The more in the bag, the more degraded the mouth appeal of the finished product after cooking.

    2) inability to "finish" the fish to perfection after cooking. In my mind, perfectly cooked salmon has a delicate crisp crust on the outside, but is moist and custard smoothe on the inside. This can only be accomplished with FRESH fish. Crisp the outside over high heat, leaving the inside rare the instant it is pulled from the heat source. Allowing it to rest 1-2 minutes before serving lets the fish "finish" to a perfect just translucent medium rare on the inside. Each layer of flesh literally slides apart from the next with each gentle stroke of the fork.... MELT! Frozen salmon is just NOT physiologically capable of doing this. You pull it off the heat rare, and it basically stays rare. Even after resting, you'll essentially be serving seared sashimi. If you cook it thru and thru to desired doneness, it ends up overdone on the plate... dry with no mouth appeal. Just can't win.

    There is simply no comparison between fresh and frozen. I guess there's always fish tacos.

    "Let every angler who loves to fish think what it would mean to him to find the fish were gone." Zane Grey
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  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by colonel00 View Post
    Interesting idea with the liner. Where are you getting them? As I posted, we haven't have an issue yet but I do like the idea of the liner as a little more insurance just in case.
    We once had remnants of a big roll of bag liners from a cannery friend. When those ran out we substituted the black oversize, heavyweight leaf bags from the hardware store. Just right.

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    Member Col. F Rodder's Avatar
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    While I agree there is nothing like a fresh day caught piece of fish!!
    I would rather eat my frozen, water retained, piece of fish, than a genetic modified, pen raised, hormone fed salmon from the supermarket.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fishNphysician View Post
    Maybe it's just the fish snob in me coming out
    I think its the American in you coming out, we're spoiled with a surplus of "second rate" food that people in most countries would consider mouth watering. For instance I still meet locals who say pinks aren't edible...

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    To the member that repped me, I'm glad you appreciate my view!!

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    Wrap frozen fish packages in newspaper and/or place sheets between each layer in the box. Benefits are three-fold:

    * Cheap, lightweight and disposable material

    * Insulates to keep fish cold

    * Reduces risk of bag damage from friction during transit

    My guests and I have found that newspaper works well to ensure that the prized catch reaches its destination -- to include the East Coast -- safe and sound.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fishNphysician View Post
    Maybe it's just the fish snob in me coming out

    Seriously, the 2 biggest hangups I have with frozen fish are:

    1) inability of the flesh to retain moisture after being frozen. Yes, that little pool of juice siting in your vac-bag after thawing out frozen salmon? That's the juice that SHOULD be inside your fish! The more in the bag, the more degraded the mouth appeal of the finished product after cooking.

    2) inability to "finish" the fish to perfection after cooking. In my mind, perfectly cooked salmon has a delicate crisp crust on the outside, but is moist and custard smoothe on the inside. This can only be accomplished with FRESH fish. Crisp the outside over high heat, leaving the inside rare the instant it is pulled from the heat source. Allowing it to rest 1-2 minutes before serving lets the fish "finish" to a perfect just translucent medium rare on the inside. Each layer of flesh literally slides apart from the next with each gentle stroke of the fork.... MELT! Frozen salmon is just NOT physiologically capable of doing this. You pull it off the heat rare, and it basically stays rare. Even after resting, you'll essentially be serving seared sashimi. If you cook it thru and thru to desired doneness, it ends up overdone on the plate... dry with no mouth appeal. Just can't win.

    There is simply no comparison between fresh and frozen. I guess there's always fish tacos.

    obviously, you are not a good cook, which surprises me. I thought you we good at everything!

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    Thumbs up Salmon tacos . . .

    Quote Originally Posted by fishNphysician View Post
    Maybe it's just the fish snob in me coming out

    Seriously, the 2 biggest hangups I have with frozen fish are:

    1) inability of the flesh to retain moisture after being frozen. Yes, that little pool of juice siting in your vac-bag after thawing out frozen salmon? That's the juice that SHOULD be inside your fish! The more in the bag, the more degraded the mouth appeal of the finished product after cooking.

    2) inability to "finish" the fish to perfection after cooking. In my mind, perfectly cooked salmon has a delicate crisp crust on the outside, but is moist and custard smoothe on the inside. This can only be accomplished with FRESH fish. Crisp the outside over high heat, leaving the inside rare the instant it is pulled from the heat source. Allowing it to rest 1-2 minutes before serving lets the fish "finish" to a perfect just translucent medium rare on the inside. Each layer of flesh literally slides apart from the next with each gentle stroke of the fork.... MELT! Frozen salmon is just NOT physiologically capable of doing this. You pull it off the heat rare, and it basically stays rare. Even after resting, you'll essentially be serving seared sashimi. If you cook it thru and thru to desired doneness, it ends up overdone on the plate... dry with no mouth appeal. Just can't win.

    There is simply no comparison between fresh and frozen. I guess there's always fish tacos.



    I must disagree completely . . not my experience whatsoever.


    Both cooking and freezing drive moisture out of the fish/meat/etc. as moisture slowly migrates from the center of the meat to the outside where it evaporates during the cooking process. Very little moisture is removed from meat by freezing, far more by cooking. What resting accomplishes, whether a steak, a leg of lamb, or a fillet of salmon, is to allow the excess moisture toward the outside of the meat to migrate back inside and kind of "even out" so to speak.


    Too, there are far more ways to enjoy salmon than to crisp it in a skillet. Poaching, steaming, braising, and baking are other, very good ways to cook and enjoy fresh and frozen salmon. Salmon poached and stirred into a sauce of sour and sweet cream and served over linguine is hard to beat.


    Slice your fillet in thin strips of about equal thickness, season with spices of choice, and fry quickly in a cast iron skillet, constantly stirring. Place the skillet on the table (hotpad) surrounded by tortillas, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese of choice, sour cream, and hot pepper. Watch 'em disappear.


    Attachment 72268


    Salmon tacos . . . yum, yum . . .

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    Quote Originally Posted by fishNphysician View Post
    Maybe it's just the fish snob in me coming out

    Seriously, the 2 biggest hangups I have with frozen fish are:

    1) inability of the flesh to retain moisture after being frozen. Yes, that little pool of juice siting in your vac-bag after thawing out frozen salmon? That's the juice that SHOULD be inside your fish! The more in the bag, the more degraded the mouth appeal of the finished product after cooking.

    2) inability to "finish" the fish to perfection after cooking. In my mind, perfectly cooked salmon has a delicate crisp crust on the outside, but is moist and custard smoothe on the inside. This can only be accomplished with FRESH fish. Crisp the outside over high heat, leaving the inside rare the instant it is pulled from the heat source. Allowing it to rest 1-2 minutes before serving lets the fish "finish" to a perfect just translucent medium rare on the inside. Each layer of flesh literally slides apart from the next with each gentle stroke of the fork.... MELT! Frozen salmon is just NOT physiologically capable of doing this. You pull it off the heat rare, and it basically stays rare. Even after resting, you'll essentially be serving seared sashimi. If you cook it thru and thru to desired doneness, it ends up overdone on the plate... dry with no mouth appeal. Just can't win.

    There is simply no comparison between fresh and frozen. I guess there's always fish tacos.

    Yes, it is the fish snob in you. Not everyone has access to fresh fish all the time, many more haven't had the joys of growing up with exposure to fresh Alaskan seafood. To those folks, a frozen salmon is still delicious and even if they can tell it's not the same as fresh,.....it's still delicious to them. That is a good thing, or all the commercial fishermen in Alaska would be in the unemployment office. Wonder how many of those 100 sockeyes given away to locals ended up in a freezer.....ironic. Some would say if you're not gonna eat it, don't kill it, sockeyes aren't like rockfish, they will release alive.

    In the past three weeks I have eaten fresh king, sockeye, coho, halibut, rockfish, shrimp, dungie and tanner crab, all from my boat caught by my hands.....but i have frozen of all of these for later use as well.....should I instead eat hormone laden chicken all winter.....cmon dock, get over it.

    The colonel makes a nice point on the deer. Remember, Alaska isn't the only place that has something special to eat that is best enjoyed fresh, but wait....you were born here, so you get to wave that around....insert eye roll.

    And yes, pinks are very edible.....but they also make excellent bait

    Anyhoo, to the OP, I've had poor luck getting the styrofoam boxes to make it without splitting as well/ , however the ones I have are also waxed so they still do a nice job, I usually just tape them before reusing and most importantly make sure the logistics of the trip don't leave them hanging for more than 24 hours in moderate weather. The foiled bubble wrap sounds like an excellent addition to a purely waxed box, I'd give it a shot and report back on how it works. Would also increase the weight in the box by volume, that styrofoam makes for a big dang box if you get one that will take 50 lbs of fish.

  19. #19

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    thanks catchit, I'm going to try it out...too bad I have to wait till next year to do it! Sure would LOVE to be back up there now to get in on the epic run.

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    Interesting discussion.

    I guess I should share the roots of my "fresh is best" revelation and my disdain for frozen salmon.

    Growing up in AK, my brothers and I had ample opportunity to liberally harvest salmon. Before the days of the food saver, fillet's steaks and roasts were carefully cut, double wrapped, and frozen. EVERY piece of salmon in our household was processed for the freezer... the oldest fish in the freezer was continually rotated forward for current consumption, and the newest pieces were buried deeper for later use.

    Never once did we think to serve a FRESH piece of fish. GASP! In fact, because of my parents "gather-now-for-later" mindset, only the oldest skankiest fish in the freezer was put on the table. Otherwise, the temptation to cherry pick the freshest cuts would eventually result in a stockpile of old freezer-burnt fish.

    OK I take it back.... ONE time coming home famished from a trip to Caswell, a high school buddy and I brought home a 45# black bellied fire-engine. After cutting it, we put a couple pieces on a skillet and ate up like ravenous pigs. It was pale nasty meat, but it went down just fine because hunger is THE best sauce. Apart from that, my entire pre-college culinary experience with salmon was frozen. Yes the advent of the home vac-pac made a considerable difference in reducing wastage from freezer burn, but regardless, it was still frozen fish.

    When I was finally served a piece of well-prepared FRESH salmon, I was blown away. OMFG! This CAN'T possibly be salmon..... it tastes so friggin' good! And the texture on the tongue.... man oh man, what mouth appeal!

    Took another decade plus to finally swear off of frozen fish altogether. That's why my Alaska trips are no longer "meat runs" that focus on whackin and stackin. Eat what we can fresh at camp during our stay.... take a few on the last day or two of the trip to bring home for fam/friends. Leaves a few more in the river for you locals.

    And yes, you're right.... beefing up on my local fisheries and gaining ready access to fresh salmon from Mar thru November here in the PNW had a LOT to do with it. December - Feb is the lean season for me as winter steelhead make the absolute worst salmonid table fare. That's when I chip away at the stockpile of smoked salmon.
    "Let every angler who loves to fish think what it would mean to him to find the fish were gone." Zane Grey
    http://www.piscatorialpursuits.com/uploads/UP12710.jpg
    The KeenEye MD

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