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I bought a package of frozen, individually wrapped, vacuum-sealed pacific cod fillets (about 150-200 grams each) from what I thought was a reputable brand (and not the lowest price) in my nearest supermarket, and attempted to pan-fry it. I defrosted it by running cold water in the sink as advised in this answer (it took about 15 minutes). When I opened the package, a large amount of water had separated from the fish. I carefully dried the fillet with towel paper, coated it with flour and put it in a hot pan over maximal heat as explained in this other question. Despite my efforts and the hot pan, the fish immediately started releasing even more water, dissolving the flour and turning into a small 75-100 grams of boiled, chewy fish fillet instead of a nice fried, tender one.

So I am looking for advice on how to properly choose frozen fish in the first place. I know that it should be properly vacuum-sealed and from a reputable source (whatever that means). But even then, some frozen fishes will loose a lot of water (it was obviously the case here). What qualities should I look for when buying it? Can I tell by the fish aspect or something else if it's good or not? Are some species better than others?

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Have you considered that maybe 15 minutes might not have been sufficient time and you were still left with some ice crystals that turned into water when they hit the pan? –  Charlotte's cook Oct 22 '13 at 0:50
Is it possible to place it in the toaster on warm (lowest heat) for an hour and let all the water run off into a pan. I do that to salmon to dry it out, without excreting the oil in the fish. Salmon is a firmer fish than cod. –  Blessed Geek Oct 22 '13 at 0:52
@Charlotte'scook the fish was soft on touch, but you're right there could have been some ice still, I can't really tell. –  Calimo Oct 22 '13 at 9:39

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

As far as I am aware, you cannot recognize this in advance.

What you describe is due to very damaged cell structure in the fish. The "water" are the fluids contained in and around the fish cells, which make the filets juicy. They flow out when the cell walls in the fish rupture.

The reason for rupturing is that the fluids are water-based, and water expands in the 0 to -4 Celsius range. When meat or fish is flash-frozen, it goes very quickly to under -4, and in the small time it spends in the problem range, the cell walls withstand the pressure from the expanding ice crystals. When it is frozen in a "slow" process, the cell walls rupture. Or, if it was flash-frozen, but sometime during storage it spend long periods above -4, it will also have this problem.

There is no way for you to recognize whether a piece of frozen fish or meat in the supermarket was flash-frozen or not. So sorry, but you have to rely on luck, and maybe try to find if there is a correlation between certain brands and quality by buying them repeatedly.

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This is the exact reason why planning in advance and buying fish as fresh as possible, preferably the day before, should be the way to go about having a good fish meal. If anyone has ever wondered why freezing basil makes it go black and wet then it's the same as this answer. –  John E Oct 22 '13 at 17:06

Yes it does, frozen seafood is typically soaked in a Sodium Tripolyphosphate bath so it holds water weight. This is why a milky white liquid leaches out when you cook it. It has nothing to do with cells being broken. This is why sushi grade fish maintains its texture, its flash frozen. The more you know...

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Hi Steve! Welcome to Seasoned Advice. You start your answer with "Yes it does..." but I don't see where there is a yes/no question in the OP. Could you maybe help clarify that bit? The question here is how to find fish that don't release so much water--it seems like your answer is to use sushi grade fish? –  Preston Fitzgerald Sep 10 at 15:06

Fish fillets steaks or whole fish should NOT contain ANY water at all. I have caught, filleted and processed hundreds of pounds of fish of a variety of species, Halibut, salmon, mah mahi, yelowfiun tuna, bonito, mackerel, blue fish, stripers, calico bass, trout and many more and fish flesh is not water logged. The flesh of fish is not water logged like what you unfortunately are forced to get from the supermarket if you can't catch your own. The fish you are buying is filleted and then soaked in water to absorb the water and add weight to the purchase. You and everyone else buying fish like this are being cheated. All you can do is try and let it drip dry in a collander slowly for a few hours and then put the fillets between paper towels until the water is absorbed.

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A fish, like any living organism, is mostly water (well, cell plasma) on the inside. Sure, if you prepare it fresh and never freeze it, less of it will flow into the pan. This doesn't mean that anybody soaked the filets in the supermarket. –  rumtscho Apr 23 at 8:08

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