How To Freeze Dry Fish

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Fish is one of the sources of lean protein. This is according to a ScienceDirect excerpt taken from the Encyclopedia of Food Science and Nutrition. It says fish proteins are very high and way better than meat. This is why many add fish to their food storage for camping or emergency preparations. But the problem is dome experience getting a strong, unpleasant fishy odor in their freezer when stored for too long. So, here’s how you can freeze dry fish so you can have your protein source for years with less the smell.

Can I Freeze Dry Fresh Fish?

Yes, you sure can. Any fresh fish good to freeze dry, may it be:

  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Saltwater Trout
  • Mackerel
  • Snapper
  • Tilapia
  • Grouper

Saltwater fish, freshwater fish, you name it. As long as you and your family enjoy it, it’s all good to go. Minnows or other small varieties can also be freeze-dried, but we don’t recommend doing so. This is because these small ones require a special freeze-drying process to remove harmful bacteria and parasites that dwell in it.

Can I Freeze Dry Smoked Fish?

Like with fresh fish, you can freeze dry smoked fish. You get a shelf-stable product with a unique texture and distinct flavor. What makes smoked fish last longer after freeze-drying is that the process removes residual moisture left after smoking.

The taste and aroma will stay the same but have a firmer, drier texture. If you love eating fish that has a chewy texture after rehydrating, this won’t be an issue.

How Do I Prepare the Fish For Freeze-Drying?

When you prepare the protein, treat it like you would raw meat. This means preparing involves trimming, cleaning, and cutting.

Trimming Out The Unwanted Parts

Waste not, want not, is what they say. Every part of it is useful, but not everyone can tolerate eating the entire thing. Trim out the heads, tail, and fin. When you’re done, cut the fish in half but not all the way yet to open the gut. Remove the innards, carefully avoiding the gall bladder. This releases bile that makes the food have that bitter smell.

Remove The Bones

The best way to freeze dry fish is to do it in fillets free of thorny bones. Use the sharpest knife to get down as close to the bones as possible.

Remove The Skin

Fish skin has the most flavor, but it can get tough and prevent proper freeze-drying. That’s why it’s often freeze-dried separately from the flesh. Take out the skin from the fillet and save it for later use for whatever you want.

Clean The Fish

Cleaning the protein removes not only harmful bacteria but also removes the fishy smell. Fresh should smell like the river or the sea. But when caught, fish enzymes and bacteria produce trimethylamine, a colorless gas that releases a fishlike odor.

This step is important, especially if you got the food from the grocery. There are three ways to clean the it:

  • Washing the fillet in cold water.
  • Soaking the fish in milk for 20 minutes.
  • Rub it with lemon or vinegar, then rinse. (Note that this can cause some texture and flavor changes)

This next cleaning method is optional, but others find that it works. However, we don’t recommend you do this when you’re watching your sodium level. Cleaning’s done by rubbing the fish with sea salt for a few minutes before washing it thoroughly. Others also rub the protein with salt along with lemon before rinsing.

Filleting fish properly using a sharp knife.

Cut The To Serving Sizes

Cutting the fish into serving sizes helps you in several ways:

  • Makes it easy to store later
  • Provides more surface area for proper freeze drying
  • Helps make cooking and rehydration easy.

Note that the recommended thickness of the fish fillets would be 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Any thicker will make it difficult for your machine to freeze-dry your food. Cubes also work well, but make sure to follow the recommended thickness size.

Of course, others prefer to freeze-dry whole fillets as they allow flexibility of use. Your drawback will be it will take a while to freeze dry.

Remember the tips discussed for freeze-drying steak? You do the same with this one. Trim out the skin and fat as much as possible without compromising meat. Although fish fat, especially that of salmon, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, they don’t freeze dry well.

Do I Pre-Freeze?

When you pre-freeze fish, you help your freeze dryer work more efficiently. But with your freezer having a higher temperature than your freeze dryer, you’ll get bigger ice crystals. This results in faster freeze-drying, but it can also change the texture of your fish.

How Do I Freeze Dry Fish?

Freeze-drying fish is simple and convenient with a Harvest Right freeze dryer. All it takes is to push a couple of buttons, and it will take care of the entire process.

  1. Turn on the machine and press “START > NON-LIQUID.”
  2. If you’re freeze-drying room-temperature protein, choose “NOT FROZEN.” For frozen fish, choose “FROZEN” to let the unit pre-cool to -8°F (-22 °C) or lower. This can take 15-30 minutes.
  3. Close the drain valve when the unit tells you to. This helps build up pressure in the chamber to help the machine sublimate ice crystals to vapor. Make sure a bucket is at the end of the hose to capture the condensation from the chamber.
  4. Press “CONTINUE” and let the machine do the rest.

fillet of fish on wooden chopping board with bones removed.

How Long Does It Take To Freeze Dry Fish?

Freeze-drying fish can take 32-40 hours. Many variables can affect the freeze-drying time, such as:

  • Weight and size of food
  • Temperature and humidity of the room where your freeze dryer’s installed.
  • If you have other high-water content food freeze drying along with the fish.

How Do I Rehydrate?

This is where the fun part begins. Did you know that water isn’t the only medium to reconstitute freeze-dried protein?

No need to rehydrate if you’re cooking the protein in a dish with soup, gravy, or sauce. It’s so dry it will take up all the flavor from what you’re cooking. Just remember to add more water because it will suck up water like a sponge.

For a more flavorful dish, you can rehydrate it using a brine. Fish or vegetable broth works as well. If you’re going to roast, bake, or fry your freeze-dried food, reconstitute it with your chosen marinade. Add in a bit more water, so the marinade doesn’t overpower the protein.

If you’re reconstituting smoked fish, you can use plain water. You can let the fish steep in the fridge overnight for slow rehydration. For faster reconstitution, use warm water and let it steep sitting on the counter for a few minutes.

Word of caution: treat freeze-dried raw fish as you would raw. Freeze-drying may preserve food, but it doesn’t kill bacteria. You can also contaminate it when mishandled. So always wash your hands before and after handling.

Important Tip:

Freeze dry the food before you change the oil. Some reported that the fishy smell was tough to get rid of. When the smell penetrates the oil, it will also spread on the next batches of food you’ll freeze dry.

Once you’re done freeze-drying, wash the drum with soap and water thoroughly. Although some practice reusing the oil after a cycle, it’s not recommended with this kind of food. Toss the oil so the next batch will taste as good as it should.

Would you still be interested in freeze-drying fish after learning the steps? Let us know in the comment section.

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  1. Leo says:

    Hello, I was planning to order coho salmon in bulk from “Alaskagoldbrand” and freeze dry most of it to save money.
    (3-ounce serving) 120 calories; Protein 19 g; Fat: 4 g; Saturated Fat 1g; Sodium 50mg; Cholesterol 48 mg; 680 mg Omega-3 Fatty Acids per 100 g serving”

    Do you think this would be too fat/oily to freeze dry? Would you have any recommendations for what I should do with the skin I cut off? I would retain a lot of nutrients freeze drying, right? Is it worth it?

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