Friday, September 11, 2009

Pressure canning salmon

If you're interested in canning, at the bottom of this post is a summary of the process of canning.

I lucked into some local fresh silver salmon (coho salmon), gutted, but with head on, for $2.00/lb, provided I bought 50lbs, which ended up being 6 fish. I filleted them, but after thinking about it for a bit, decided that it was good quality fish and it'd be pretty tasty canned, so I canned the salmon.

I can my own fish because I like to know where my fish is coming from, and the ingredients, and because i can pack it to my own specifications, I know it'll taste better than what I can typically buy.

For canned fish I've settled on a half-pint wide-mouth jar as my preferred canning size. It's pretty close to what I typically consume in a day or two. I've done larger jars in the past, but I always ended up refrigerating the jar after I opened it for a week. Smaller jars work better for how I eat the fish.
You don't really have to fillet salmon to can it. Commercial canneries just hack the salmon into hunks, stuff it into a can, and the heat and cooking of the canning process softens the bones and makes them part of the salmon. I actually wanted to eat some of this salmon now, so I BBQ'd the backbones I removed and ate that as a snack. The fillets, with the skin on, are what I canned.
You can see a couple of bits of skin in these filled, raw jars. The skin on a salmon is where most of the fat on the fish is found, and is a source of many nutrients, so I like to can it with the skin on. But esthetically, the black isn't pleasing to the eye. So I cut the fillets into strips, roll them into O shapes, and stuff them into the jar so that the skin mostly doesn't show.

Here's a batch of half pint jars fresh out of the pressure canner.
Here's what the finished product looks like. It looks like a solid hunk of salmon in the bottom, and it is -- a rolled slice of a fillet. Canned properly, this will keep at room temperature for years. I usually eat it within 12 months of canning. As with other foods, the final step for me is to label this jar with the the date of canning and contents, as well as any notes about the recipe I used. 6 months from now, if I find a particularly tasty jar of salmon, I'd like to be reminded what was in it.

Canning process summary:
Only can the best quality ingredients. Fresh, and in season, for best results.
Meats and fish are low-acid foods, and must be pressure canned. This basically means you fill your cans, put the tops on them, and then put them in a pressure cooker for a specified period of time. For canned salmon, I pressured cooked them at 10lbs pressure for 100 minutes per the guidelines included in my pressure canner.
Canning recipes are pretty simple. Here's the recipe for this batch of salmon:
Fill jar with salmon, leaving 1/2" airspace at top of jar
Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to jar (flavor, aids in removing air pockets)
add 1/2 teaspoon salt to jar (flavor)
Examine jar and remove any air pockets
remove jar lid from boiling water bath and screw top on hand-tight.
Process according to instructions.
I use the All American Pressure canner Model 941, which I admit is a very large, pretty expensive pressure canner, for the following reasons:
1) When I do can, I'm typically dealing with a bulk purchase of some sort. In this case, 60lbs of salmon. So I want to be able to handle a large amount of food at once.
2) The processing time for pressure canned items is measured in hours. So by the time I get done with all the food prep and jar filling, I usually have time to do one batch per day. With this particular pressure canner I have the capacity to can 30 to 50lbs of meat at a time. So for this salmon, I was able to can it all in one shot. Big time saver for me.
3) Properly cared for, this canner will last the rest of my life, and probably my childrens and grandchildrens life. So yes, it looks expensive, but given its likely lifespan, it's not that much. Worth buying quality.


StefRobrts said...

Have you ever had a can in storage go bad, and how did you know? I'm leery of learning to can because everyone talks about getting sick from bad canning.

Bruce King said...

People eat cans of food all the time -- the science is pretty solid on how to make safe food. As long as you follow the manufacturers directions and guidelines, I don't think it's any more difficult than any other form of cooking. For me it feels a bit like baking. There's a precise part (process for XX minutes at YY pressure) that you need to respect, but the contents of the jar are completely up to you.

Every canning book has a section on what to look for to determine if a jar has gone off in some way. I've never had a jar go bad, but I'm pretty scrupulous about reading the directions and following the procedure.

Anonymous said...

My son and I can lots of salmon and if the jar doesn't seal after coming out of the pressure cooker, we refriderate and eat fresh cooked. Cleaning the jar rim is really important for a good seal, as is sterilizing the lids. This fish in sandwiches, salads soups etc. is excellent. Don't tell your friends you've done it or they'll want some.

Anonymous said...

if anyone is going to learn to can heres the most important info I got when learning to can. #1 go to the USDA website the guidelines change often. #2 manufactures recommendations that come with various equipment are frequently wrong. Case and point my stove top juicer stated very clearly that open kettle canning is the best choice for any juice to be canned.
I learned to can from my grandparents when you heated the jars, stewed tomatoes, Filled the jars, screwed a recycled lid on and inverted them on a picnic table. We never got sick because the food itself was different then. Now they say pressure can only. I only say this because yes there are alot of horror stories. Follow the current usda info exactly and you will be able to enjoy this labor of love for the rest of your life.

Anonymous said...


I am interesting in purchasing a nice gift for a friend. He lives in Victoria BC and is interested in canning salmon as well as home hot-smoked salmon. What size of pressure canner should I get him, would you recommend a brand? Do you have a favourite book?

Thanks so much,

Bruce King said...

I just noticed this comment; buy the canner that is the size that will be just a bit bigger than the largest quantity that they'd like to can. For personal use, if you don't farm or have large quanties, the smallest canner I'd choose is one that has a capacity of 4-6 quart jars.

Anonymous said...

bruce, i want to can turkey & chicken in 1/2 pint jars using my model 921 pressure canner. is there any reason why i can't? the procedures i have seen only use pint or quart jars. also, i just bought 15# salmon & will pressure can per your procedure in 1/2 pint jars in lieu of the pint & quart jars specified in my model 921 procedure. tnx rbk

Anonymous said...

I was given frozen salmon and I want to pressure can . It was fresh, but they froze it to keep it. Is is alright to can them?

Anonymous said...

I think that pint or half-pint jars are great. No problems.

As I understand it, the issue with larger jars is that they take more time to reach the desired pressure and temperature to sterlize them. With a smaller jar it takes less time to reach the same pressure and temperature.

I choose my canning jars based on the amount I typically consume in a single meal. No waste, no reason to refrigerate the unused portion. Just easy.

Happy canning!

Anonymous said...

You can process salmon that's been frozen as you would fresh, and often that's a good option. Pull the packages out of your freezer and put them into the refrigerator overnight to thaw slowly, and then can as you would fresh. It'll be fine.

Anonymous said...

how much water do you put into the pressure cooker?can you stack the 1/2 pint jars 2 high?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for input. Being new at this it is nice to follow along on conversations that include what I assume are FAQ.

Bruce King said...

The pressure canner has an insert that keeps the glass jars off the bottom of the canner -- usually a metal rack. I add enough water that it covers that metal rack plus 3 inches up. When I set the bottom row of jars in the water is a couple of inches below the lids, and the bottom third or so of the jar is covered by water. In my canner that means about a gallon of water, but your amount will vary.

Anonymous said...

Glad you are still checking the comments on this post:) I have been practicing with my pressure canner: first medium acid vegetables like heirloom tomatoes then low acid veggies finally meat stock, and corned beef. Now I really want to tackle my own canned fish in water and in oil. I plan on doing albacore tuna in olive oil and Salmon in water. Is there any other fish that is good to can. I'd love to take advantage of trout season to put by some trout.

PS to all the folks who are scared of canning you can minimize your risk by following instructions, and by practicing, but one other thing to think about. Don't let the media scare you. Sometimes when I'm scared I think about who might profit most from me being scared to do something. Mostly in our culture that would be corporations whose main interest would be to keep us tied to buying their products and not being self-reliant. That thought always always inspires me to learn and do.

Donna Schaffer said...

I have 8 pints of red chinook salmon in the pressure canner as we speak. Caught them out of Bodega Bay here in Calif yesterday. First time we ever went Salmon fishing. I really hope you're right about the little bones. -- I have a difficult question---were they supposed to be scaled first? Oh I hope those sacles melt in the canning process.....

Keri and Darren said...

If you leave the skin on it is best to scale the fish first. Also, adding a tsp of vinegar will soften the bones. Enjoy

Parker707 said...

I just did 10 half pints of Yellow Fin Tuna I caught this summer. It was my first time using a Presto 23 quart pressure cooker and they turned out Fantastic!!! It was also easier than I thought. The most difficult part is "learning" how and where to maintain the gauge, but even that just took some commit in the kitchen watching it. Overall...... Totally do-able for a rookie ;)

Unknown said...

I have several packages of salmon in freezer froze in water. Is there anything thing I can do when canning to tone the strong flavor down?

Bruce King said...

If it's got an off flavor there's not much you can do. Canning is best done with the best quality materials you can get; fresh if you can, but frozen will work.

Canning will not change the flavor much; I'd worry that if it doesn't taste or smell right it might concentrate that. I wouldn't put the effort into canning anything that wasn't top-notch.

Unknown said...

It just tasted stronger then I like. All the fish were fileted the same day as caught & froze in water.

Emily said...

Bruce, those are full sized pint jars - not half pints. At least what I'm seeing in your pictures. I have a batch of half pints in the canner right now full of reds we caught a few days ago. Half pints are the perfect size for us. With pints we do end up not eating it all at one time. Best wishes, Emily

John Dach said...

Diane W.,

The part that gets the strongest fish flavor is almost always the dark, fat running the length of each filet down the middle. Cutting this our will reduce the "fishiness". When I can albacore I always cut this out, then can it for cat and or dog food as they LOVE it.

I personally do not like the looks of the skin in my canned salmon so I always filet it and skin it. Skinning is VERY EASY if you have a good (very good) very sharp very flexible knife and if you are set up to be able to keep the knife blade VERY PARALLEL to the cutting surface (I elevate the filet on a cutting board or most often just get the filet to the table edge so my knife is really parallel with the surface and the fish skin). If you have it all correct, skinning takes about 3 seconds. With some fish you can pull the top front corner of the skin and just pull it back to the tail, but salmon and albacore are softer flesh and generally do not work well with this pulling method, they have to be cut off.