Here in the Des Moines region of GIRS, we get together once or twice a year to make a batch of DIY Food. I've been organizing the event for the past 2 years or so and wanted to go ahead and post our recipe. Other regions have done this, following the same or similar recipe, with great success!
We've pretty much got this down to a science as far as the process goes, every time we refine it a bit (and get better at it).
- Brine Shrimp Direct
- Local Grocery store and/or Asian Market
- Seafood Distributor - in our case, Great Midwest Seafood, a family owned seafood distributor in Eastern Iowa - who will deliver right to your door!
- Drs. Foster & Smith
- Premium Aquatics (or BRS, Champion Lighting, Marine Depot, etc)
Tools & Supplies needed:
- Food processor, one that holds about 15 cups - the bigger the better, and not a cheesy cheap one. For a big batch, get 2, you will use them, or at least have a backup in case you smoke one
- Do NOT use a blender - they just don't work well, and you will smoke it. We have.
- 20g Keg Tub, or several 5g buckets (the latter being OK for smaller batches, but multiple buckets means equally splitting ingredients, which is a pain)
- 1 Gallon freezer ziplock bags, heavy duty
- 2 Gallon freezer ziplock bags (for thawing)
- Heavy-duty corded Drill with 1/2" chuck (NOT a hammer drill, but that level of quality)
- Drywall paddle mixer with 1/2" hex shaft (from Lowe's)
- Several 1 gallon buckets
- Large net (for straining) not 100% required
- Colander (plastic is fine) not 100% required
- Rags in a Box (Lowes)
- Microfiber cloths
- 18oz Solo Cups
- Digital portion scale (we have 2)
- 1 cup plastic measuring cups (2)
- Rubber Spatulas
- Rubber gloves (nitrile, no powder)
- Extension cords & power strips, if needed
- Cutting boards
- Very, very sharp knives (kitchen knives, filet knives, etc)
First, the ingredients list:
This list represents quantities for a large batch: about 70 lbs once it's all done (so 70 16oz bags).
I had been getting most of this at the local grocery store and Asian market, but this time I found a seafood company that supplies restaurants and businesses and swung a deal on great product.
Shrimp: 20 lb peeled, de-veined, no tail, frozen block - Philippine White, which is block frozen with zero preservatives - this is hard to find, almost everything has sodium triphosphate or metabisulphate or some other preservative you don't want. Shrimp tastes bland without this, which is why it's hard to find. If you can't find this, see the RODI soaking section below
Cod: 15 lb, flash frozen, no preservatives (relatively easy to find)
Scallops: 5 lb DRY bay scallops. Dry = no preservatives (relatively easy to find). 60-80 ct or smaller is fine
Squid: about 4 lb (from Asain Market, GMWSF doesn't carry this)
Baby Octopus: 4 lb
Frozen Krill: 6.6lb (3kg) we got this previously at the Asian Market in 14oz frozen packs, but this time we got a solid block from Brine Shrimp Direct (ask Victoria)
This is also sometimes available from BSD as IQF or "Individually Quick Frozen" and is very good stuff.
Brine Shrimp Direct:
* each box of cubes is 7x 100g trays of cubes
- Daphnia: Two (2) 1kg blocks
- Mysis Cubes: Three (3) boxes
- Bloodworms Cubes: One (1) box
- Brine Shrimp Cubes: One (1) box
- Enriched (Spirulina) Brine Shrimp Cubes: One (1) box
- Krill Cubes: One (1) box This item may be available in blocks, loose in the bag
- Rotifer Cubes: One (1) box
- New Wave Arctic Copepods: One (1) 32oz Jar (no-thaw type)
- New Wave Kaeplin Roe: One (1) 32oz Jar (no-thaw type)
- Krill (listed in seafood above) is a solid 3kg block and is awesome.
Drs. Foster & Smith:
- Two (2) 40 oz frozen packs PE Mysis Shrimp ($25 flat overnight shipping!)
- Also available as 10x 8 oz flat packs from Premium Aquatics
* not all of these are needed, you can certainly trim some of these out to reduce cost, especially on smaller batches.
- Aqua-Tech S.E.L.C.O. Boost 111mL Discontinued/not available - use below instead
- American Marine Selcon, 60mL
- Aqua-Tech AZOX 8oz Discontinued/not available
- Boyd Vita-Chem 16oz
- Kent Zoe Marine 8oz
- Kent Coral Vite 16oz Discontinued/not available
- Kent Garlic Extreme 4oz
- New Life Spectrum 3mm Pellets 300g
- Polyp Labs Reef Roids 4oz
- Seachem Reef Plus 500mL
- Seachem Vitality 50mL Discontinued/not available
- Seachem Phytoplankton 500mL
- Two Little Fishies (TLF) Green Seaweed 200g (100 sheets)
- TLF Purple Seaweed 200g (100 sheets)
- TLF Goniopower 30g
- TLF ZoPlan 30g
- TLF PhytoPlan 30g
- TLF Marine Snow 16oz
Second, the preparation:
Shrimp: thaw, usually fully, because it comes in a solid block. If loose in a bag, partially thawing is fine
Cod: partially thaw and cut into cubes, a little smaller than 1"
Scallops: partially thaw and cut in half, if they are large. 100ct and smaller, no need to chop up.
Squid & Baby Octopus: thaw only until you can break them apart, then slice into pieces as small as you can reasonably get them, because they don't chop up well in a food processor. Cut while partially frozen because it's WAY easier than when they are fully thawed.
Krill: thaw and drain (actually, we didn't drain, but it depends on the quality). IQF does not really need to be thawed, drained, or rinsed. But you can if you want.
RODI Soak: if any of the seafood contains preservatives, place these in a bucket and fill it with RODI and let soak for 20 minutes. Drain and soak again. Repeat this so that there are at least 3 20 minute soaks. Stir the concoction every few minutes. Strain using a colander and set aside for blending
Fill the food processor with a mix of all seafood ingredients. How full you fill it will depend on your food processor. Run at full speed for about 5 seconds at a time. Open up the processor, use the spatula to turn over the mixture (large pieces will go to the outside) and repeat a few times until it "turns over" in the processor and is sort of like a paste. Dump in keg tub or bucket. Repeat until all seafood is blended.
You can vary the consistency of the mix, leave some a little chunkier, etc. This last time we didn't blend in the krill (by accident) but the stirring step I think beat them up well so it was OK...we'll see when we start using it!
Alternatively you can blend just some of the krill and leave the rest whole.
Thawing Frozen Items:
While the Seafood prep is going on, the rest of the frozen stuff needs to be thawed. Here's what we do.
All items are placed in ziplock bags in a sink full of warm to hot water. The water gets cold fast, so you will need to drain and refill several times to get everything thawed. As things are getting more thawed, don't use too hot of water, not looking to cook the stuff, just thaw it.
You will need to knead the bags every so often, probably as often as you change the water. Before doing this, make sure all the air is out of the bag, or else you will pop the bag and there goes $$ down the drain. Feel for solid chunks and squeeze them to break them up. Don't leave any partially frozen chunks, everything needs to be fully thawed.
The Krill used in the seafood steps will usually need to be thawed in this step.
Cubes: these need to be popped out of the trays WHILE STILL FROZEN. Do NOT thaw, at all, or this becomes impossible. We line the 1g buckets with 2g ziplock bags and have a cube tray popping party. Remember, there are 8 boxes with 7 trays each, that's 56 trays with 30 cubes each, which is almost 1700 cubes. Yeah. the foil sometimes comes off, so you have to watch for that and remove it. The edges of the cube trays are a bit sharp so while the rubber gloves help, it doesn't always prevent the occasional cut. Using tight-fitting rubber-coated gardening gloves can help (also keeps your hands warm). Once all popped, place the bag in the thawing sink.
Update: I found a way to speed this popping process up. Take the cube tray and lay it foil face down on a cutting board. Lift up slightly on one end, and press down on the tray near the center. Now lift the end up more while pressing on the cubes and they will pope out in rows or at least several at a time. It's a bit hard to explain, but you get the general idea
Daphnia: This is very important. Do not thaw the Daphnia in the bags they come in. We made this mistake once, and ended up with a sink full of daphina. The issue is that the stuff is frozen in the bags, which can cause them to crack. Cut the bag off the frozen block and place the block in a 2g bag and place in the thawing sink. It helps to actually cut the bag, then put it in the 2g bag, then peel the bag off (because the block will break in pieces). Use one 2g bag per block.
Kaeplin Roe and Arctic Copepods: Place these in the freezer until the mixing stage. These do not freeze and are meant to be kept in the freezer. These are fantastic products by the way. And no they did not pay me to say that*
*They also don't threaten to sue if you name their products as an ingredient if you haven't paid them $10,000 to get the rights to use their product by name, unlike another well-known arctic copepod type of product whose name I refuse to mention for that specific reason (and that is why I don't use them anymore). And I'm not kidding, that other company literally threatened to sue our CLUB if we posted that we used their product as an ingredient, even though I saw that as free advertising. Where did that soapbox come from???
PE Mysis: Same as Daphnia, usually you can thaw in the bag it comes in (it's a tough bag) but for ease, we cut it off. You can put 2 packs in one 2g ziplock bag, it thaws rather easily.
Rinsing: Do not strain or rinse any of these items. The only exceptions might be the PE Mysis (which we have done in the past, but not this time) and the frozen Krill (not the cubes, the big block). The krill are whole and about 1" long, and sometimes have really pokey feelers and antennae and stuff so watch yourself on these suckers. You can strain these in a colander and pour some RODI over them or soak them if you don't trust the source, but the BSD stuff is tp notch, we didn't ever drain it.
Third, the Mixing:
After you are done thawing everything and blending all the seafood in the food processor, this is the fun part.
Your keg tub or bucket should now have all the blended seafood (and krill). Dump all of the thawed items in, and use a spatula to squeegee out the bags (or invert them and have someone else scrape).
Hook up your paddle on to your heavy duty drill and start mixing the concoction. This takes a little practice. You will get seafood on you. Be prepared. A few fine points - don't run it very fast, and do NOT abruplty stop or else the swirling mixture will collapse and "pop"...all over you. Think of dropping a rock in a lake. Except that lake is raw seafood.
While you are mixing, pour in all of the liquid bottled ingredients. Save the SELCO, AZOX, and Garlic Extreme for last as these are by far the smelliest.
Pour in all of the powdered ingredients. **IMPORTANT** two of the TLF jars have a dessicent pack in them, and the other has a spoon. Open these, remove the dessicant packs/spoons, and THEN sprinkle these while mixing. We didn't realize the dessicant pack was in these one time and had to go fishing. Bare handed. But at least the smell wears off in about 12 hours (it does not wash off, even with bleach)
Do not pour in the NLS pellets until all of the other ingredients are mixed in, right before you start bagging.
Fourth, the Bagging:
While the other parts of the process are going on, anyone standing around texting or bragging about their tank needs to multi-task and start pre-bagging.
Take the 1 gallon ziplock bags and place 1 sheet of each Green and Purple seaweed into the bags, and set them aside. Do not crumble up the sheets, just leave them flat. We used to break up the nori and mix it into the concoction, but what that does is almost instantly suck all the moisture out of the mix and it becomes too much for the drill, resulting in smoked drill, and "alternate mixing technique" which again does not wash off but goes away in 12 hours or so.
How many bags you fill with nori depends on what your total batch weight will be. I enter everything into a spreadsheet and convert the weights to pounds, then subtract about 5% or so for drainage loss from thawing frozen blocks, and divide by 16 to get the quantity of 1 lb bags. I calculated 86 bags from yesterday's batch, we actually ended up with 82.
Now comes the really fun part.
We set up an assembly line of 2 tables with the keg tub/bucket in the middle. Each assembly line consists of a scooper, 2 baggers, and a few cleanup & seal people.
Weighing: we have in the past tried to weigh every bag to get it consistent but once you figure out the system, the scales are no longer needed. Basically the process is fill the Solo cups and dump in the bags. Some food always sticks in the Solo cup, so first you fill a cup and then dump it out a few times. Then zero the scale with the dirty cup. Now fill the cup until it reads 16oz. This is usually about 1/8" or so from the top (there is a "lip" on the cup that serves as a great measuring line). Once you are able to get this filled & dumped on a consistent basis, you're good to go for the assembly line.
Scoopers: kneel by the tub/bucket and use the 1 cup measuring cup to fill up Solo cups with food and set on the table.
Baggers: One person opens the bag, the other person dumps the food in. Pass it down the line
Update: we were able to get the bags filled without dirtying up the seals. It takes a bit of practice but it can be done...
Cleanup & seal: Get a 1g bucket with some hot water, and use damp/wet rags & microfiber cloths to wipe out the zipper seal on the bag, and wipe off the outside of the bag, which will inevitably get some of the mixture on it. Flatten out the bag and "burp" most of the air out, and seal it. Double-check the seal. You can stack the bags.
At this point, it's just cleanup and divide up the goods and go home.
There is one final step that needs to be done before freezing the bags. Remember the nori? Right now, that's flat in the bag, and on one side, there are likely air pockets. With one batch, we left these as is and it was OK, the idea was to get an equal amount of nori in every "serving". The next batch, I got home and "massaged" the bag until the nori had broken up...and that worked out very well! This is better explained in a video, which I made earlier this spring after that event:
And then yesterday, I had to make another one to show how to break up the nori this time. The lesson learned here is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This time we crumbled up the nori, but that backfired because wet crumpled up nori turns into chunks of nearly solid seaweed that don't break up well.
What I do is clear out a shelf in my freezer and then cut up a USPS large flat rate box (the cube shaped one) into squares that are about the same size as that flattened bags. Place one piece of cardboard on the shelf, then 2 bags (flatten the food out as best you can) and then a piece of cardboard on top of it, and repeat until you have 6 or 8 bags stacked up. Then go to another shelf. Freezing usually takes a good 24 hours to get really solid. After that, you can remove all the cardboard. I leave the one on the bottom, and place pieces on all the vertical sides. This protects the food from the defrost process so that you won't get freezerburn.
Helpful Hint: get like 4 boxes of Arm & Hammer and put 2 in the freezer and 2 in the fridge. Unless you enjoy the waft of fishy-garlicy smell permeating your refrigerator and freezer. It permeates through the bag, until it is frozen.
When ready to use, here's what I do. I take a cutting board and a very large kitchen, then slice the bag, and peel it off and throw it away. Then I press the knife down on the food block and cut it into strips about 1" wide, then cut the strips up, attempting to get the cubes all the same total size. This can be a bit tricky, because the bags won't freeze completely even.
Hold in tank with fingers and watch fish go friggin bonkers. They love this stuff.
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Make your own fish/reef food!