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Can You Freeze Fresh Sardines?

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By Ross Young

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Sardines are up there with the healthiest fish you can buy, and a fresh batch of sardines from your local fishmonger or seafood market can be a real family treat.

While sardines can also be bought in cans, fresh sardines are hard to beat. But if you don’t use them all in one go, is it possible to freeze fresh sardines and prepare them at a later date? Let’s take a look now.

The Quick Answer

Yes, you can freeze fresh sardines. Sardines can be frozen for around 3 months. Before freezing fresh sardines, you will need to remove the heads and guts and add a dusting of salt to preserve their flavour and texture. Once prepared, they will be perfectly fine in the freezer.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

How to Freeze Fresh Sardines

While it’s perfectly possible to freeze fresh sardines, you will need to prepare them for the freezer, as opposed to just transferring them directly into freezer-safe bags when you return home from the seafood market.

Below are the steps you need to take to preserve fresh sardines in the freezer:  

  1. Remove the Head and Guts
    Presuming you’ve purchased whole fresh sardines from a fishmonger, you will need to remove the head and guts yourself. As sardines are small fish, doing so is relatively easy. Simply use a sharp knife to cut off the head and then slide it through the belly of the fish. The guts should then spill out to one side and can be disposed of. 
  2. Wash Thoroughly
    After you’ve cut your sardines, place them in a bowl of ice-cold water. Then, using your hands, gently massage the fish in the water, remove any blemishes or remaining guts. 
  3. Drain Any Excess Liquid
    Once your fresh sardines are sliced and washed, you need to leave them to dry, using either a colander or drain tray. You can also pat the sardines dry with paper towels if you want to speed up the process. 
  4. Add Salt
    Line your sardines up on a baking tray and add a generous dusting of salt to the fish before you transfer them to the freezer. This will preserve them and ensure they retain their intense taste during the freezing process. 
  5. Freeze on a Baking Tray
    Once salted, transfer the sardines on a baking tray directly into the freezer. You should freeze them initially for a couple of hours until they’re frozen solid. 
  6. Transfer to Freezer-Safe Bags and Label
    Once your sardines are frozen solid, remove them from the freezer and place them in freezer-safe bags. You should write the date that you bought and prepared your sardines, as well as their use-by date before sealing the bags.

3 Tips for Freezing Fresh Sardines

Now you know how to freeze them, we’ve got our 3 top tips which we strongly recommend following when freezing sardines to have the best results:

  • Leave the Scales – Because sardines are small fish, there’s no need to remove the scales before enjoying them, as you will barely notice them after they’ve been cooked. Removing the scales of a sardine is a painstaking process, so you will save yourself lots of time and energy by leaving them on. 
  • Don’t Leave Them in Water for too Long – If you leave fresh sardines to soak in cold water for too long, you will ruin the intensity of the flavour. Also, rubbing the fish too aggressively in the water may remove some of their nutrients, so you need to be careful when you’re washing them. 
  • Add Cornflour – If you’re planning to pan-fry, deep fry or oven bake your sardines, add cornflour to them before freezing. You can add the cornflour at the same time as you’re adding the salt to your sardines. 

How Long Can You Freeze Sardines?

You can freeze fresh sardines for around three months. 

As soon as you’ve purchased fresh sardines, it’s important to store them at a cool temperature. You can refrigerate them for 2-3 days but shouldn’t keep them in the fridge for any longer than this as they will spoil.

However, for the best results, if you know straight away that you want to freeze them, get them in the freezer as quickly as you can to preserve their freshness.

You Can Freeze Sardines for up to 3 Months

How Do You Defrost Sardines?

When you’re ready to cook your sardines, you will need to defrost them in the fridge until they’ve thawed completely. You should never defrost sardines or any other fish at room temperature.

Once thawed, you can pan-fry, oven-bake, or grill your sardines, and they will be bursting with flavour and nutrients. Some people coat their sardines in oil, herbs, and garlic for an even more intense taste once they’ve been defrosted. 

Can You Refreeze Fresh Sardines?

You should only freeze fresh sardines once. The changing moisture content of the fish during the freezing and defrosting process can cause your sardines to dry out if you freeze them more than once.

The fact that sardines are only small and should be frozen solid before freezing them together in bags means you can defrost them individually. This ensures you don’t need to worry about wastage or refreezing them after thawing initially. 

Do Fresh Sardines Freeze Well?

Fresh sardines freeze extremely well. Once you’ve prepared them for the freezer and frozen them initially, they will freeze well in bags for up to three months and can be thawed, cooked, and enjoyed in a range of ways, retaining their intense flavours and rich nutrients. 

Related FAQs

If you’ve still got questions about freezing fresh sardines or sardines in general, then these may help:

Can You Freeze Sardine Fillets?

Sardine fillets can also be frozen in much the same way. Prepare, remove as many bones as possible then add a little salt to help retain texture and flavour. Freeze each fillet on a tray then, once solid, store for the longer term in a bag. 

Can You Freeze Tinned Sardines?

For obvious reasons, if you have an unopened tin of sardines then you may as well keep them in the tin and in the cupboard. However, if you have opened the tin and have some leftovers then you may want to freeze the leftovers. But is it possible? 

Yes, you can freeze tinned or canned sardines. Use airtight containers (instead of bags) as they will prevent your entire freezer from smelling of fish. Simply portion into airtight containers, seal, label and freeze. 

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