Can you freeze fresh sardines or herring, best way to do it and the right way to do it

cleaned sardines deguted and wihtout head
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Sardines or herring are one of the healthiest fishes you could buy. The best once you could get are fresh from your local seafood market. Sardines are also very popular caned, but if you are looking for a healthier version of sardines or herring, buying them freshly caught is the best. So the question of, can you freeze fresh sardines or herring to keep them fresh for a longer time arises?

Yes, you can freeze fresh sardines and herring. Freezing sardines or herring is easy, and you can do it in these five simple steps:

  • Remove the head and guts but not the scales
  • Wash them
  • Drain excess liquids
  • Add salt and corn flour, and mix
  • Place them on an oven tray and freeze

can you freeze fresh sardines or herring

Why are sardines superfood and how you can benefit from eating them

Sardines are one of the most nutritious foods. They are so called low food chain fish, which means no concerns about heavy metals, toxins, and mercury, like in larger fish types. They are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and especially omega-three fatty acids. The protein in them is super high. Sardines include 25g of protein per 100g. 

So the next time you spend your hard-earned money on highly processed supplements like capsules and tablets, think twice. All the supplements can’t match the nutrition in one serving of freshly cooked sardines.

Freezing food is a perfect way to keep it fresh. Check out also how to freeze yellow wax beans, parsley, or ginger garlic paste.

What is the difference between sardines and herring

The simple answer is smaller and younger fish are called sardines; larger and older fish are called herring. 

Sardines (Sardinia pilchardus) belong to the herring family of fish (Clupidae). In Europe, larger sardines are also called pilchards. The smaller sardines are softer in texture than herring. They taste similar, but you should go with the sardines if you want more intense flavors. 

Sardines’ taste is more powerful and delicate than from the herring. They are both excellent when they are prepared fresh. 

How to freeze fresh sardines or herring and keep them fresh 

You can get sardines or herring all year round, but sardines or herring are much more abundant in the summer. I usually buy them a lot. A batch of around 13 pounds (6 kilos) will last my family of five for about three meals. But to keep sardines fresh, cleaning them and preparing them for freezing is essential.

Best way to freeze sardines or herring

If you have a large family and buy larger amounts of these fish from the market, ask the counter attendant to package them into separate batches. Each batch shouldn’t contain more than 4.4 pounds (2 kilos) of sardines or herring. These fish are delicate and much softer than larger species of fish. That is why putting more in one package will squash and mash these tiny fish.

You must keep the fish cold from the market to your home. Don’t leave them in your car for a long time as they will get spoiled. The temperature of the fish should always be kept below 5 degrees Celsius (41 F).

When you come home, put them on ice or in the refrigerator right away. Put them in the cold environment for as long as needed and only take them out before you start cleaning them.

#1 Remove the head and guts but not the scales

There are several ways you can cook sardines. You can deep fry them in oil, pan fry them or grill them. Whichever way you choose, you can prepare them with head on or head off. I think they are better with the head off.

You can remove the head in two different ways. The first one is by using only your finger. Squeeze the fish just behind the head with the tip of your thumb and index finger. Then pull towards the belly. If you do it this way, the guts will be pulled out together with the head. Then use your index finger and clean the inside by slide the finger through the belly area.

The second way to do it by using a small knife: cut the head off with your knife just behind the head. Then use your index finger and slide it through the inside of the belly. The guts should fall out with the first slide.

Sardines are small fish, and scales are barely noticeable when you clean them or eat them. I never put the scales off. The process of removing scale from sardines or herring takes forever. 

Some of the scales will be removed anyway when you wash them, and some of the scales will fall off when you put them in corn flour. When you cook them, you will never notice that scales ever existed on this delicate fish.

cleaned sardines deguted and head off

#2 Wash them

You would think that washing sardines is necessary, but it is actually not. But if you want to make sure that everything is nice and clean, wash them with icy water. 

Washing sardines is best if you pour cold water in a large container and add in some ice. Put all your sardines in water and gently mix with your hand. Don’t leave them in this water for a long time because freshwater is not the same as salty seawater. Keeping them in there too long will decrease the intensity of taste and even wash away some nutrients.

The other thing is if you can wash them in the see in salty seawater. If you have this privilege, it is best to clean them by the sea and pour fresh see water over them in a colander when you are finished.

#3 Drain excess liquids

Before you begin putting on ingredients, drain them thoroughly. It is best if you put them in a colander or a container with a drain tray like this one

If you don’t want to continue with further preparation for freezing, you can close the container with a drain tray, put them in the refrigerator and continue with the process after one or two days. Don’t leave them in the fridge for more than two days as they will get spoiled.

container lock lock with drip tray for sardines or fish

#4 Add salt, corn flour, and mix

When you come to this step, you must decide how you will cook the sardines or herring. You can make sardines pan fried, deep fried, baked in the oven, grilled, or another way.

Sardines or herring are best if you apply salt before you cook them. Put a generous amount of salt on them and mix all sardines at once with your hands. Do not salt each sardine or herring separately as this will take forever. Putting salt all over them at once is fine. The salt will get incorporated on every sardine when you mix them with your hands.

Best way to prepare fresh sardines or herring for freezing if you want to pan-fry, deep fry or oven bake them afterward

If you are working with a large batch, take a small container before proceeding to the next step. The best way to get the yummiest results is to coat the sardines in corn flour. Don’t use cornmeal but corn flour. The best substitute for corn flour to coat sardines can be all-purpose flour. 

Put sardines in the container. Add a cup of corn flour for a handful of sardines.

Mix everything, so the corn flour gets nicely stuck on every sardine. Put the coated sardines in the sift and shake off any excess flour. You can also do this with your hands if you don’t want to mess extra dishes. 

fresh sardines and herring cleaned added corn flour

fresh sardines and herring cleaned coated with flour

Best way to prepare fresh sardines or herring for freezing if you want to grill them afterward 

If your preferred way of making sardines is grilled, you don’t have to put any corn flour on them. The only thing you need to do is to apply salt, and that is it. You shouldn’t put any garlic, oil, parsley, or any other spices or ingredients on them, before freezing. 

#5 Place them on an oven tray and freeze

How you put sardines or herring in the freezer is very important. The best way to freeze sardines is to place some parchment paper on an oven tray. Arrange sardines separately one by one, so they don’t stick to close together. If you put them to close together, they will glue themselves together, and it will be hard to fry them without defrosting. 

Arranging sardines nicely on the baking tray is excellent for the following things:

  • Sardines will freeze more evenly
  • The soft structure of sardines will stay unattached
  • Sardines are easily put off the baking tray once they are frozen if you put parchment paper under them
  • It will be easier to put them from the tray and into a freezing bag and back in the freezer once they are frozen. Baking or roasting tray can take up a lot of space, and if you don’t have any, placing them in a separate freezing bag after they are frozen is a must.
  • Defrosting them before cooking will be much easier

fresh sardines and herring arranged in roasting tray for freezing

How to freeze sardines or herring fish in ziplock bag

Freezing fresh sardines or herring in a ziplock bag is almost the same as putting them on a baking tray. The important thing is that you arrange sardines one by one. Don’t just throw them in the bag and zip it. You will end up with a big ball of frozen sardines if you to that. 

When you place arranged fresh sardines in a ziplock bag into the freezer, place them on an even surface, so they freeze evenly. This way, you will quickly separate them once they freeze. Also, defrosting them will be effortless.

Can you freeze fresh sardines or herring from the supermarket

Of course, you can freeze fresh sardines from the supermarket. The way to do it is the same as if you would buy them on the fish market. Maybe you will even get them all cleaned up, and the only thing you will have to do is arrange them on a baking tray or zip lock bag and put them in the freezer.

How long can you freeze or store fresh sardines or herring

Sardines or herring will be safe indefinitely if you store or freeze it according to USDA recommendations. But it would be best if you kept in mind that after fish have been frozen or are left in the refrigerator, flavor and texture will lessen after lengthy storage.

The USDA recommendation for fresh raw sardines or herring is to keep fish in the refrigerator at 40 °F (4.4 °C) or less for only 1 or 2 days before cooking or freezing.

After sardines or herring have been thermally treated (cooked, baked, fried, grilled…), store fish in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

If you want to get the best quality out of cooked (thermal treated) sardines or herring, freeze them at temperatures 0 °F (-17.8 °C) or less for up to 3 months. 

If you want to get the best quality out of frozen sardines or herring, put them into the freezer fresh, freeze them at temperatures 0 °F (-17.8 °C) or less, and use them in 3 to 8 months.

You can store commercially canned fish, such as sardines, herring, or tuna, for up to five years in the pantry and home-canned fish, only one year. 

Here is a helpful table on how long you can freeze and how to store fresh fish like sardines and herring:

How long can you freeze or store fresh fish (sardines or herring)
CategoryWhereHow longTemperature
Fresh raw sardines or herringRefrigerator1-2 days40 °F (4.4 °C)
Cooked, roasted, baked, fried… Sardines or herringRefrigerator3-4 days40 °F (4.4 °C)
Cooked, roasted, baked, fried… Sardines or herringFreezerUp to 3 months0 °F (-17.8 °C)
Fresh raw sardines or herringFreezerUse them in 3-8 months0 °F (-17.8 °C)
Commercially canned fish (sardines, herring, tuna…)PantryUp to 5 yearsPantry temp.
Home-canned fish (sardines, herring, tuna…)PantryUp to 1 yearPantry temp.
* The prices for ingredients and products in our tables are average prices take from various websites. The prices are not taken directly from Amazon.
* Pro family chef utilizes affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of our product links, Pro family chef will receive a small commission at no cost to you. This helps support us, and allows us to keep providing tips, reviews, guides, and content for you.

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Rok Jurca

I am a kind of person that would sneak a taste out of grandma’s pot when I was barely tall enough to reach it. I grew up in kitchens full of love and liveliness and have spent my whole live learning, experimenting and succeeding in the art of cooking. At Pro Family Chef, every day is an opportunity for a new meal and a brand new flavor. I created this website to connect people that love to cook, with the products designed to make their cooking easier, hassle-free and rewarding every time.

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