Canning Seafood While Cruising
I’ve flirted with canning, but it’s always seemed like more trouble than it was worth. The canner I have in storage is a *huge* 24 quart monster. Canners, jars, and supplies take up valuable room aboard Solace as well. However, I just got a small, 4-quart pressure cooker at the insistence of several sailors that I trust. They rave about how quickly it cooks and how well it cooks inexpensive, dried staple foods like rice and beans. I also just got a quality propane burner to heat water efficiently. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could preserve some of the oysters, crab, and fish I caught with it? Well it turns out I can…. can.Warning: What I just stated is highly controversial among people who can. I already hear the angry, but well intentioned cries: “You can’t use a pressure cooker to can! And especially not low-acid foods like seafood!” That’s what I thought at first too, but I’ve found some conflicting yet very authoritative information, so I’m putting it to the test.
First of all, I started by finding a straightforward recipe for canning oysters in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (which, consequently, doesn’t mention pressure cookers at all). I ran through my Kindle library and began scouring the book Putting Food By which was originally recommend to me through Annie Hill’s book Voyaging on a Small Income.
One of the things I like about Putting Food By is that it backs up all the ‘canning wisdom rules of thumb’, such as “You can’t can with a pressure cooker” with explanations of why. Of course, they don’t recommend using a pressure cooker, but they explain the concerns:
“The pressure cooker’s heating-up and cooling-down times are too short to do the job without adding processing time. However, if a pressure cooker is the only thing you have for canning low-acid foods, go ahead and use it – with these stipulations:”
It then lists a checklist of things to watch out for. The most important to me was, “Add 10 minutes to the processing times given…”. Of course, the ‘official stance’ is still ‘Use a pressure canner‘.Here’s the thing: To can properly, I need to maintain at least 10 psi in the cooker. My pressure cooker is set up for 15 psi and it’s brand new. Furthermore, it has three safety subcomponents for the pressure: a pressure-locking handle, the weighted regulator, and a rubber over-pressure valve. If the cooker couldn’t maintain 15 psi, above or below, one of these components would very obviously malfunction.
I’m starting small. First, I did two half-pint jars of oysters. Next I’ll do two or three half-pint jars of crab meat. The pressure cooker can only fit four half-pint jars at a time. That’s perfect for me as I only want to do small batches at a time, and don’t want to can jars any bigger than half-pint.
The oysters turned out amazing. The seal appears solid, the color good. I dated each jar. I’ll eat one in two weeks and the other in a month. I’ll carefully inspect them before eating to see if there is any discoloration, smell, off-taste, or problem with the vacuum seal.