Do-it-Yourself Frozen Food
The marine aquarium hobby is an expensive one, and fellow hobbyists are always looking for ways to save money. Well, this month I can provide readers with a simple way to save a few bucks while providing an excellent food product alternative for their aquarium.
Whenever shopping for food to feed fish, always be sure to use whole, uncooked items. In the wild, when a large fish eats a smaller fish, it eats more than just the fillets. It eats the head, guts and, just as important, whatever the smaller fish has recently eaten, as well. To use a slang phrase, it’s all good.
Additionally, cooking robs food of certain vitamins, so always use uncooked fare. There are no Hibachi grills underwater, and I have never heard of lionfish chasing their prey down to deep water thermal vents to boil them prior to eating.
The Basic Recipe
1 - 4 oz. bottle of Vita-Chem™
1 - 4 oz. bottle of Selcon™
1 pound of whole, uncooked frozen shrimp
1 pound of uncleaned frozen Silversides/Smelts
1 cup of freeze dried Cyclop-Eeze®
10 whole sheets of sushi nori seaweed wraps
When compiling this mixture, be sure to start with the wettest ingredients first and progress to the drier items. It is a lot easier to work with the mixture this way, and it keeps everything fluid and prevents the blender from binding up.
The bottles of Vita-Chem™ and Selcon™ are poured in first and mixed briefly. Then the shrimp and silversides/smelt are added and chopped up by the blender. These items tend to hold a lot of moisture, so the mixture is very runny at this point. Next the freeze-dried Cyclop-Eeze® is added. These are dry and help to soak up much of the mixture’s excess moisture content. I also like to allow the mix to set at this point for several minutes to permit the Cyclop-Eeze® time to rehydrate. The freeze-dried Cyclop-Eeze® is more convenient than the unfrozen kind to find and buy, but in my experience it also tends to float and easily becomes lost to our aquarium’s overflows if not given adequate time to soak up some of the juices. Now the sushi nori seaweed wrap can be added. I find it easier to tear the large sheets into 1" by 1" squares. The nori will soak up the rest of the juices and act as a binder of sorts pulling the mixture together.
This mixture now can be poured onto a cookie sheet or similar container, to be frozen. But I have discovered that when it comes to general aquarium keeping and maintenance, if it isn’t easy or convenient, it doesn’t get done. And, that applies to feeding, as well as to other chores. Having to whack a big block of frozen food repeatedly with a putty knife and a hammer is a pain, especially if the alternative is to simply open a can and throw in a pinch of flake or pellet food. For frozen foods, I much prefer the simplicity of commercial preparations that are available in those little cubes. But you can make them yourself. When I am done with my fish food puree, instead of pouring it right onto a cookie sheet, I apply it into and across a section of eggcrate lighting grid lying on the cookie sheet. This quickly and easily casts the food into perfect, portion-sized cubes, which then can be flash frozen. After a couple of hours, the food is solid and can be extracted from the grid and placed into more convenient plastic bags for later use.
Although I have included a very basic recipe here, please, do not simply stick with this small group of ingredients. This is merely meant to be a starting point. Experiment with other items and custom tailor them to the needs of the fish you keep. For triggerfish, getting some uni (sea urchin) from the Asian grocery would be a good idea, along with including shellfish such as scallops, clams and squid in the recipe. If, on the other hand, most of the fishes are vegetarians such as surgeonfish and pygmy angelfish, adding more vegetable matter would be an excellent idea. Fresh Ulva and/or Gracilaria would be great!
And remember, variety is the spice of life. Continually fine tune the recipes and change things up. I believe that doing so helps to maintain better color and the overall health of the fish in our systems.
To Gelatin or Not to Gelatin?
When I made my first batch of frozen food I was encouraged to use a gelatin additive as a binder to keep the mixture together. I had never heard of such a thing. I knew of Jell-O (what American kid doesn’t?), but I was unaware that the raw ingredient could be bought, as well as the flavored kind. Gelatin is available locally at most of the grocery stores I have visited, and I am sure the readers could find it as well, but I am not going to recommend its use. If you have never been exposed to it before, gelatin produces a rather noxious smell. And that is saying something, from someone who is used to actively working with raw seafood! Apparently, gelatin is made from animal by-products. I have heard that, specifically, it is made from hooves, and the smell it makes when mixed makes me believe that. I can best describe the odor as a combination of wet dog and dirty gym socks, a real olfactory offense.
The directions for preparing the gelatin advise would-be chefs to boil the water first and then add the package of dry gelatin mix to the water. This is an excellent means of carrying the stench around the entire house by way of the steam coming off the water. When the gelatin's fine powder hits the boiling water, it practically aerosolizes and spreads like a rank fog throughout the home. If the smell of the seafood has not gotten the food preparer into enough trouble with other residents of the home, the stink created by the gelatin most certainly will.
A Final Word of Warning
I want to leave the readers with one last word of advice - clean up when finished. I am directing my comments mostly at the male readers. I hope I have not offended too many of the females out there, but we must accept and recognize a few simple facts here. One, like it or not, this is a male dominated hobby. I don’t know why that is, but it is. Go to any of the major hobbyist conventions or big trade shows and you will see that they are dominated by 75-90% men. Second, I feel a certain responsibility to encourage my fellow males to clean up after themselves. Otherwise, I will have nightmares about male fishkeepers around the world being beaten silly with dirty blenders after their significant others discover the mess that they left in the kitchen sink. “You did what with my blender!” Plus, I don’t have to tell the women to clean up. I know full well that they know to do this on their own, without needing to be told. And for those single men out there who are laughing right now and reveling in their carefree bachelor lifestyle, I don’t know how you are going to complete this project anyhow. I can’t imagine you own a blender, let alone a cookie sheet.
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