Storing Seafood at home

August 13, 2009

As anyone reading this blog knows by now, I am rather batty for cooking seafood. Over the years I have stored fish and shellfish a lot of different ways, and have finally settled on what I consider one of the best ways to keep seafood super fresh in the fridge at home.

The idea for this came about from a chat one day with my favorite local fishmonger. I knew there must be a reason that in any decent fishmonger the products get stored on ice – more than just the fact it makes everything look pretty, and our two year old son constantly thinks it has “snowed in the fish store”. Turns out to be something very logical indeed. Most fish swim in very cold water. Far colder than my fridge. To keep the fish in the best possible condition, it is best to try and keep the fish thusly as cold as possible, without freezing.

Store your seafood on ice” suggested Ron. “But be careful, because when the ice melts you end up with fish sitting in water, and that can be a little funky” (not quite word for word, but you get it).

Turns out this is the same advice as in the French Laundry cookbook too. And who am I to argue with Mr Keller.

So, for a long time now I have been bringing home the fish, laying out a dish of ice, popping the fish down skin side on the ice, and bunging it in the fridge. The fish does certainly stay fresher, especially if you aren’t using it that day. The only bugger is that melting ice – and the fish swimming in a pool of melted ice problem.

The solution I found was to use two cheap plastic storage containers – they don’t have to be big or fancy, just something inexpensive but sturdy from a home improvement store.

I got two the same size, they will fit inside each other (snugly), but there will be a small gap between the bottom of the top container, and the bottom of the lower container.

You can see where I am going with this…


  1. Break out that swanky drill you never use, and drill a bunch of holes in the bottom of one of the containers – just big enough for water to drain through.
  2. Use a little sand paper to smooth off the holes.
  3. Half fill this container with the holes in with ice.
  4. Sit this container with ice inside the other container.
  5. Fish goes onto the ice.
  6. Container (opps, “storage vessel”) goes into the fridge

Now as the ice melts the water doesn’t pool up in the ice and fish, it drains through the holes into the lower container.

If you use two different sized containers, the fish and ice goes in the smaller one, and this sits in the larger one. You can place a couple of small cups (sake sized) under the small one to raise it up off the base of the larger one holding it.

Want to get real fancy? You could always get a few plastic blocks, glue them to the underside of the smaller container – bingo! permanent feet, to keep this smaller ice container up, and not sitting in water.


  • MUSSELS/CLAMS: Do not try and store these in cold water, saline water or the like. If they do survive long enough to eat, the freshwater will change their texture somewhat, and they won’t taste great. Store them on the ice bed. Mix in some smaller cubes of ice between the shells. It is best to buy these the same day you wish to eat them.
  • LID: You can put the lid on the container if you are storing “dead” seafood (fish etc). The lid isn’t a great idea when storing live seafood like mussels and clams – they will eventually suffocate.
  • FISH FILLETS: store them skin side to ice.
  • FISH WHOLE: Lay them on the ice, with ice up the sides of the fish. Cover with a little ice if you wish. For every day of storage, turn the fish over so the other side gets to lay on the ice.

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  • Kate August 13, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Great tip — I’m a once a week shopper and would love to be able to cook fish on some night other than Monday. I have a question though – would storing the fish in a ziploc bag on the ice have the same effect? It would still be submerged in the water when it melted, but wouldn’t actually be IN the water.

  • mattwright August 13, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Hmm, I would honestly have no idea Kate. I think without the bag the fish would certainly be in contact with the ice a little better.

    You could do a rigged version, and just use a metal strainer full of ice, fish on that – and all that standing in a bowl.

  • Kate August 14, 2009 at 12:54 am

    I have a small refrigerator (that’s filled with cartons upon cartons of yogurt, since I also have a two year old) so I’m always looking for space saving ideas. I might try fish inside a plastic bag inside another plastic bag filled with ice. Will report back.

  • Anticiplate August 14, 2009 at 1:47 am

    This is what we do at A&O too. We wrap all our fish, airtight, in cellophane and put them on over ice with a drainage system on the bottom.

  • Anita August 14, 2009 at 1:47 am

    A lot of times I find water manages to get into ziplocs, esp when I’m defrosting meats and it’s submerged in water — not guaranteed but definitely would want to keep an eye on it

  • mm August 14, 2009 at 1:51 am

    What about storing it on frozen marbles or glass pebbles that I have for vases and candles? I’ld likely put the fish in a ziploc to insure it was sanitary. Or maybe some of those fancy cocktail icecubes that are plastic sealed in cutsey shapes that you only get to use once in a dogs age, or those frozen gel packs that you use to reduce swelling. No melted water to think about with these options, but will they stay cold enough?

  • Irina@PastryPal August 14, 2009 at 2:13 am

    Yes, this is exactly how it was done in a fine dining seafood restaurant I worked in. Of course, there would be no fish deliveries on the weekend, so that fish had to stay fresh Friday, Saturday AND Sunday, and the method you describe works best. Great, informative post.

  • mattwright August 14, 2009 at 5:14 am

    As regards doing this in a ziploc – I would think that Anticiplate’s method of wrapping the fish in cellophane would work far better – that way you have no air gaps to get in the way between ice and fish.

    I don’t see why ice packs wouldn’t work – and indeed would have less mess. The thing I like about ice is that it can somewhat form to the shape of the fish, which larger ice packs cannot.

  • nina August 14, 2009 at 6:38 am

    Thanks Matt for all these helpful ideas!!! In December we always go on fishing trips and storage is always a concern!!!

  • Rachael August 15, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Great post! I live in Tokyo and we buy a lot of seafood- sometimes it can be difficult to use it right away and I needed some pointers on how to keep it a bit longer. Thanks so much!

  • Giff August 16, 2009 at 4:10 am

    this ranks up there with Jai’s post on Jugalbandi for the DIY food-lighting system 🙂

  • Food Woolf August 18, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    Wow, this is a great post. A page that requires bookmarking right away. Thank you for the fish storage ideas. You’re brilliant!

  • Hank August 18, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Hey Matt,

    Nice post — it is the same advice I offer on my fish and seafood cooking website. As for the Ziploc bags, I do not recommend them.

    What I do recommend, however, is a vacuum sealer. Seal the fish, and cover the sealed fish in CRUSHED ice, which will keep the fish colder because you will get better contact with the skin (through the plastic sealed bag). I have kept fish this way for 8 days without too much damage.

    Also, if you are buying fish once a week and don’t intend to eat it until several days later, buy warm-water fish such as catfish or tilapia or snapper. A fish that comes from warm water will store better than a fish that used to swim in water that is more or less the same temperature as your fridge. Cod will go bad in a flash, even in a fridge, because a fridge to a cod is like your kitchen is to you…

    Hope this helps,


  • Martin Reed March 26, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Great post, Matt!

    Just launched an ecommerce site selling only sustainable seafood – – and I was hoping you would let us link to this page on our FAQ so people could have more information about the best way to store seafood?



  • Heat Recovery August 30, 2010 at 1:47 am

    I’m never quite sure if I am doing it right when I bring back walleye from a fishing trip to Canada. Most of the time they aren’t around long enough for them to get a chance to go bad, but there was a time. Usually we wrap them in paper and keep them on dry ice until we get them in the freezer at home.