by John Childs
If you read my blog at all you know I recently returned home from a trip to Cabo. I brought home one of my favorite delicacies, fresh frozen yellowfin tuna. While I, like many others, love eating this fish as sashimi, I have an even fonder taste for it canned.
Being a tuna captain here in the Northwest, I harvest and can albacore each year, and love this as well, but canned yellowfin tastes even better to my palate. One of the things I like about the canned yellowfin is it has a bit more of a "tuna" flavor. It's not fishy by any means, but has a stronger flavor, where I think canned albacore is incredibly mild. I especially love the albacore made into tuna sandwiches or spreads, while the canned yellowfin is generally reserved for special occasions, and is eaten straight from the jars with a some pepperoncini's, crackers and cold beer.
I'm going to outline the canning process here, but I also want to talk a little bit about the additions. The additions I use can be used with any fish you're canning, but I especially like it with the yellowfin, and think it blends wonderfully. In fact, I can and will eat it immediately after canning, but it gets better with age. If let to sit in the cans for 6 months or more it gets even better, as the flavors of the vegetables, garlic and fish meld as they age. Canning Supplies
Items Needed to Can:
Separation Rack for the interior of your canner to separate jar layers.
Jar Lifter (Nifty device, similar to tongs, but made to lift hot jars from the bath.)
Tongs (To retrieve the hot lids from the boiling water)
Towel to se the hot jars on the counter
Sweet Red/Yellow Peppers
The first step is getting your fish, which I accomplished nicely on my recent trip. I brought everything home frozen in zip locks. Once home I let it thaw out, and then cut the tuna into two inch chunks. The size doesn't really matter, as long as you can easily fit the chunks into your jars.
Next you need to select the size jars you're going to can with. I prefer to use full pint jars for this fish. When I sit down to enjoy a jar of this tuna, I'm generally sharing with a good friend, so a ½ pint is way to small, and is consumed to quickly. A pint seems to be the perfect size, and can even be enjoyed by a few more people if other appetizers are added to the mix.
Once you have your jars, run the jars through your dishwasher with a hot drying cycle. I wash both the jars and the lids, but the lids will go directly from the washer into boiling water to complete the sterilization process. As the hot jars come out of the dishwasher, I add boiling water to each of them to keep everything hot right up until I pack the tuna into the jars. Boiling and sterilizing the lids.
A side note, always make sure to use new lids and rings. Jars can always be cleaned, sterilized and reused, but the lids and rings should be new whenever pressure canning. Jars filled with boiling water right out of the hot washer cycle.
Cut up the vegetables and garlic. I prefer to use a garlic press on my garlic so it becomes more infused in the cans, but you could also add whole or partial cloves. I put each of the ingredients in their own bowl so when I begin stuffing my jars, everything is ready to add right to the can as I add the fish.
Take a hot jar and dump the water out. Add the vegetables to the bottom of the can, adding 3-4 slices of jalapeno, a layer of onion and sweet pepper, and a pinch of the pressed garlic. Then begin stuffing the fish into the can, making sure to leave as little air space as possible. Fill the jar, but leave an inch to inch and a half of space at the top. The whole concoction needs some space to expand when its in the pressure cooker, and without the space it will expand enough that the lids won't seal once you remove them from the canner. Everything set out and ready for packing the jars.
Once all the jars are filled, add sea salt and water to the top. I like to add water to about ½ way up the filled jar. I will often have to stick my finger along the side of the jar making room for the water to filter down in the fish because it's packed so tightly in the jar. Once the water is at a level you like (this is personal preference and you could fill the jar to the top of the fish if desired, but the one to one and a half inch head space still needs to be left at the top), add a ½ to 1 teaspoon of sea salt. Now the jars are ready to be sealed. The jars packed and ready for the lids and rings. Notice the space at the top. I also added the veggies to the top of one jar so you could see the type of quantity I use.
It's important to clean the rims of the glass jars off before adding the lids because vegetable matter, fish and salt can get on the rim, keeping the lids from sealing once they come out of the canner. To clean the glass rims, take a clean soft cotton cloth and dowse it with vinegar. Then take the vinegar soaked cloth and wipe the mouth of the jars off.
Once the mouth of the jars are clean, take the hot lids and rings from you're boiling water and tighten them down on the jars. You should screw the rings down snug, but not excessively tight. Now add the closed jars to the canner. (It's important to note here that the jars are not sealed yet. They won't seal until they come out of the canning process and begin to cool off on your counter.
Most pressure canners have a offset rack to go into the bottom of the canner so the cans are not resting directly on top of the bottom of the canner. This allows water to be beneath the actual jars, which will reduce an most likely eliminate any jar breakage. Fill the bottom of the canner with your jars. I have a 23-quart pressure canner that fits 8 cans in the bottom. I then add a wire rack to the top of the jars, and then put a second layer of 8 jars on top. The jars stacked in the canner, ready for the lid and cooking.
Now add cold water to the bottom of the canner. A lot of the new canners have a fill mark along the inside of the pot, but if yours does not, add about 2-3 inches of water in the bottom. The most important thing here is to not fill above the level of your closed jars. Add some lemon juice to the water to help control the smell that can be a downside to pressure canning. A few squirts will do.
Now it's time to start the pressure canner. You should do this outside, since no matter how careful you and clean your process is, you will still develop a fish smell through the canning process.
Use a camp type stove, set the canner on the burner, and bring it to high heat. Crab/turkey cookers can be used, but it's very hard to keep a consistent heat level once everything begins to pressurize. This is where a camp-type cooking stove is much preferred. I often use my crab cooker to bring everything up to heat, and then move the cooker to my Coleman Stove once it begins to pressurize. Here I can keep a pretty consistent pressure through the whole process.
When you put the canner on the stove, don't add the pressurizing weight at first. You want to bring the canner up to heat, and once the canner begins blowing steam out of the pressurizing vent, you want to start a timer for 10 minutes. The vent should be blowing a solid stream of steam for a full ten minutes before you add the pressurizing weight. The canner on my cook stove. Notice the pressure weight on the table and not on the canner as I bring the canner up to heat.
Once the canner has been steaming for 10 minutes add your pressure weight. Within a few minutes your pressure gage should begin climbing. You want the canner to reach 11 pounds of pressure, and then hold at that pressure for 90 minutes to sufficiently cook the fish. This process is about cooking your fish, but it's also how the botulism spoors are made sure to be killed, so bringing your canner up to heat, and then maintaining the 11 pounds of pressure for 90 minutes needs to be followed rigorously. The canner blowing steam through the pressure vent. I'm in my ten minute warm up phase with the steam venting steadily.
If for some unfortunate reason your canner drops below the 11 pounds of pressure before the 90 minutes is up, the timer must be started again from zero once the 11 pounds of pressure is regained, so babysitting the canning process if pretty much mandatory!
It's also a bit of a chore to stay right at the 11 pounds, so stay with your canner through the process and you'll be rewarded with a great safe finished product. The canner at full pressure, almost 12 pounds. It holds this setting for 90 minutes.
After you reach 90 minutes at 11 pounds, remove the canner from the heat and let it cool down naturally. I timed this recently and it took about 30 minutes from turning off the heat until the canner unpressurized itself. Don't attempt to speed the cooling process down, or try and open the canner until the pressure has completely dissipated. This is also part of the canning process and is taken into account for ending with a safe product.
Another note here. These times are for sea level canning. If you're canning above 1,000 feet, make sure and look at canning adjustment times and pressures. These can be found on-line through many sources, and are also mandatory to end with a safe product.
Once the canner has cooled enough to un-pressurize, you can open the canner and remove the hot jars. This is where the jar lifter is especially handy. As the jars come out of the canner, the water in the jars themselves will still be boiling, and will continue boiling for some time. Put the jars on a towel on your counter with at least an inch of air space surrounding them, and let them cool completely. This process will take a couple hours.
Within anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour after removing the cans from the canner you'll start to hear the cans ping as they seal themselves. This is the important seal that tells you everything is safe. You can come back and check your jars once they've cooled for this seal by pressing in the middle of the jar. If it doesn't ping up and down, your jar is sealed. If it does ping, then that jar hasn't sealed. The product is still safe, but must be refrigerated and eaten over the course of the next few days, and is not safe for storage. The finished product cooling on the counter.
Now, the hardest part of the whole process…wait 4-6 months to enjoy! I will often break down and try my jars early, but they just continue to get better and better if you can wait for them to age.