During a crisis, your food supply will only last so long. To prepare, you’ll need to develop certain skillsets, such as hunting and fishing, to procure sources of nourishment and protein. If you’ve been following along with our four-part how-to Survival Scout series on fishing, you’ve already learned valuable information on how to read the water and catch the fish, and what types of fish to look for. You can find those articles here:
Learning how to find and catch fish is one thing (and certainly a skillset you should be proud of once you’ve mastered it!). But once you have your catch, there’s a bit more you need to do before you and your family can safely enjoy it for a meal.
Below, I’ll cover the importance of learning how to store, clean, and prepare your fish in order to retain flavor and quality. To make sure you enjoy delicious fish dishes, I’ll also share a fish recipe you can make using vegetables from our emergency survival meals.
Let’s get started, shall we?
#1: How to Store Your Fish
In order to keep your fish fresh and preserve its flavor, you need to control its temperature after you catch it, which can be done in two ways:
- Whether you’re on a boat or the shore, keep the fish alive in a bucket of water or leave your fish on the stringer in the water.
- If you decide to immediately kill and clean the fish, you will need to keep them on ice. I suggest putting them into an insulated bin filled with a little water and a lot of ice--preferably shaved ice. Be sure to place the fish in the ice with their bellies facing downwards, and surround their bodies completely with ice. Keep in mind that if dead fish sit in melted ice water for too long, it will spoil--so be sure to buy a cooler with a drain plug so you can drain out melted water.
When you get back home, keep the fish frozen until you are ready to clean and cook it. If no ice is available, it’s best to eat the fish the same day you catch it.
Also, be sure to clean the fish within 24 hours of catching it. The longer you wait, the more it will lose its taste and freshness.
#2: How to Clean Your Fish
The next step is cleaning your fish. You will need some basic tools, such as…
- Fillet knife: A good fillet knife features a thin, flexible, relatively short and narrow blade which provides the needed control and precision to remove skin, bones, entrails, and fins from a fish.
- Scaling tool: A dull knife or spoon will do, or better yet--screw a bottle cap onto a wooden handle and use the cap to remove the scales.
- Bucket: A bucket is needed to dispose of the guts and bones, preferably far away from your home. Set up this disposal system before you start cutting, as it’s a messy process and you’ll want to be able to stay in one place more or less throughout.
- Newspaper: Liquids will spill out of your fish--so use newsprint on the cutting surface to absorb the liquids and keep your space relatively mess-free.
- Cooler: If you have a lot of fish to clean, set out a cooler full of ice or a bucket of cold water to keep the cleaned fish cold.
You also need to keep the cleaning area as sanitary as possible. And since you’ll need to rinse the fish and wash your station when you’re finished, it’s ideal to have access to running water.
Now the process of cleaning isn’t the most pleasant experience, but you’ll get used to it. Picking up this skill is always worth it once you can eat and enjoy the fish for lunch or dinner.
There are four main parts to cleaning your fish: scaling, skinning, cleaning, and gutting.
Scaling: With thinner-skinned fish, you’ll need to remove their scales via a process called scaling. Before you begin, make sure the fish is moist--if they are dried out, you can soak them in ice water for a few minutes. This will make the process a lot swifter and easier.
Using your scaling tool, rake up from tail to head--going “against the grain” in the opposite direction of the scales. Apply short and shallow raking or scooping motions to get under the scales and push up and into them quickly to remove them from the body.
Be sure to remove scales on both sides of the fish, as well as top and bottom. If you want to ensure less of a mess, scale under running water or under water in the sink. Be careful when you are around sharp edges of the fins, and rinse the fish in water when you’ve completed the scaling process.
Skinning: With thick-skinned fish such as bullheads and catfish, you’ll want to skin them, not scale them. Start by cutting the sharp spines off, which will make the skinning process easier. Then, cut a one-inch notch where the top of the fish's head meets the body. From there, peel the skin back to the tail while gripping the fish’s head.
Clean your knife between cuts using clean water, premoistened wipes, or alcohol swabs. This ensures that you won’t drag bacteria into the flesh. When done, rinse the flesh.
Cleaning and gutting: Once you’ve either scaled or skinned you fish, it’s time to clean and gut your fish. With belly side up, insert the knife into the anus, near the tail. Slowly but surely, slide the knife toward the head of the fish and stop at the base of the gills. Carefully remove the entrails from the abdominal cavity by opening it and pulling out what look to be gummy, long guts. Some fish will also have a kidney located by the spine, which you can remove with a spoon.
Be sure to also remove the darkened inner membrane that certain fish have with a scraping motion, as the membrane negatively affects the flavor. If you wish to remove the head, you can do so by cutting behind the gills. You can also use scissors to cut away fins along the sides, top, and underside of the fish.
Additionally, pesticides or other substances may concentrate in fatty parts of the fish, so remove skin and fat deposits when cleaning fish. Be sure to rinse the fish and the internal cavity when finished, and dispose of all raw fish parts.
#3: How to Prepare Your Fish
Congratulations--you’ve made it this far, and you’re just steps away from enjoying delicious, freshly caught fish. While you can certainly throw the whole fish post-cleaning onto a grill or in the oven, you have two other options when it comes to preparing fish for cooking--filleting and steaking.
Filleting: To fillet a fish, you start by laying it on its side and holding the head. Use a fillet knife to make an incision behind the gills and pectoral fin. Then, starting at the base of the tail and using the backbone to guide your cut, run your fillet knife down the fish's spine from tail to head. It’s best to use a smooth and gentle slicing motion--don’t be too rough in this process. You’ll also want to make sure you are not sawing through the ribcage, but rather running alongside it. You can always remove excess bones later with tweezers.
From there, with the scale side down on the table, use a sawing motion while inserting your knife between the flesh and the skin to remove the meat. Then, turn the fish over and repeat the whole process on the other side of the fish. Rinse the pieces of meat in cold water when you're finished, and pat dry with a towel.
Steaking: Steaking your fish is typically a method used with bigger fish such as salmon or tuna. In the same way you can throw beef steaks directly onto a grill, you can do this with fish steaks.
Essentially, you make a series of cuts that are perpendicular to the spine, along the entire fish. Each cut should be ½- to 1-inch thick, and run from tail to head. Make sure to trim away bones and fat from each steak, while leaving the skin and backbone intact.
There you have it--your introduction to storing, cleaning, and preparing fish for consumption. I suggest you also check out YouTube videos to see the whole process in action.
With our Patriot Pantry foods, you can whip up several delicious fish-based dishes! To get you started, here is one recipe you can use to combine our Mashed Potatoes Case Pack when cooking your fish…
Fillet Fish and Mash
- 8 (75g each) small firm white fish fillets
- 1 cup reduced-fat milk, can use Powdered Whey Milk
- 3/4 cup dried breadcrumbs
- 4 servings of mashed potatoes from the Mashed Potatoes Case Pack
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 2 ½ - 3 tablespoons butter, can use Butter Powder
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- 1 teaspoon thinly sliced lime rind
- lime wedges, to serve (adults)
- tomato sauce, to serve (toddler)
- Step 1: Reserve 4 fish fillets for adults. Cut remaining fish into 1 x 3 inch fingers. Pour half the milk into a bowl. Place breadcrumbs on a plate. Dip fish fingers in milk, then breadcrumbs. Place on a plate. Refrigerate, covered, for 15 minutes.
- Step 2: Prepare mashed potatoes using instructions that come with the Mashed Potatoes Case Pack. Add garlic, remaining milk, and half the butter.
- Step 3: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook fish fingers for 2 to 3 minutes each side or until cooked through. Transfer to a plate. Cover.
- Step 4: Clean pan. Add remaining oil. Return to medium-high heat. Cook reserved fillets for 3 to 4 minutes each side or until cooked through. Transfer to a plate. Cover.
- Step 5: Heat remaining butter in frying pan until foaming. Add lime juice and wine. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes or until liquid has reduced slightly. Stir in dill and lime rind. Place mashed potato and fish on plates. Drizzle with sauce. Serve with lime wedges. Serves 4.
This officially concludes our four-part fishing series. You are now equipped with the knowledge and know-how needed to find, catch, clean, and prepare fish.
Whether it be economic collapse or a natural disaster that impacts access to your local grocery store, there are numerous disaster scenarios that will require you to look to alternative sources of food.
Take the time sooner rather than later to make plans and prepare to stock up on your sources of sustenance.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply