Fish is among the healthiest food on earth. These gill-bearing aquatic creatures are blessings to mankind since they are a good source of high-quality protein and healthy fats, and contains a range of vitamins and minerals. They’re unquestionably delicious too.
That said, knowing how to choose the freshest fish or seafood in the market is a fundamental skill for any cook. All fishes, regardless of the variety, have certain characteristics that indicate quality and freshness. Luckily, picking fresh fish is easy if you know what you’re exactly looking for.
If you’re not that experienced with dealing with fishmongers and shopping around the seafood market, here are some tips on how to find a fresh and high-quality fish.
If you’re buying a whole fish, it’s easy to spot what’s fresh and what’s not even if it’s lying cold and dead on ice cubes. You just need to pay attention to its eyes, gills, body, skin, and smell.
Fresh fishes, whatever the variety, have a bright, clear, and full set of eyes that are often bulging. When the fish is not fresh, the eyes become sunken, cloudy, and pink.
Recently, a fish market was shut down for sticking googly eyes on old fishes to make them look fresh. Nice try.
Fresh fishes have bright red or pink gills. Avoid those with gray, brown, or green gills, which indicate they are old. They should be moist but free of loose, sticky slime.
If you encounter fishes with no eyes or gills, there’s a good chance that they’re not fresh. The seller must have taken them out to hide the fact that they’re not fit for sale. They may also have been washed with water with vinegar to eliminate the foul smell.
The body should be firm yet elastic. It should bounce back when touched. You can tell if a fish has gone bad by its soft, gray, inelastic, and spongy consistency.
Fresh fishes have a bright and shiny skin with scales that adhere tightly. It should have a healthy coating of sea slime, which slides out of your hands. Discoloration (yellow or brown edges) and cracked skin are tell-tale signs of rotting fish.
Smell something fishy?
While fishes don’t really smell nice, there’s a fine line between a natural fishy smell and a gross fishy smell. A fresh fish should have the odor of its origin (sea, lake, river, or fish pond). Spoiled fish has an unpleasant, pungent smell of trimethylamine (bad fish) and rot.
Fish Fillets or Steaks
It’s easy to determine freshness if it’s whole and uncut. How about when it’s gone under the knife?
Fillets and steaks should still have a firm, elastic flesh. It should have a fresh-cut, moist appearance. Look for separation and gaps; if the flesh separates from itself, it’s probably left too long in the case.
Test it by pressing the meat with your finger. It should be resilient enough to make your indentation disappear. If the fingerprint remains, move on.
If the fillet still has skin, it should look as pristine as the skin on a good whole fish. It should be shiny and metallic.
Look for vibrant flesh. They should be shiny and semi-translucent as if you can almost see through them. Any discoloration (brown or yellow) around the edges indicate the fish isn’t fresh.
The smell test is crucial with fillets since the head has been cut off. Once you sniff a pungent aroma, back off.
Fillets usually have liquid, but it should be clear and not cloudy. Milky, sticky, and slimy liquid on the fillet is the first stage of rot.
Just because you can see the fish moving in the supermarket tank doesn’t mean it’s fresh and safe for consumption.
- Look for signs of life
Fishes should enjoy their remaining days inside the tank. They should be scampering around or swimming happily. Seafood, especially crustaceans, should be bought alive and kicking literally.
But if the fish is sulking in a corner or hanging motionless and panting, don’t buy it. Anything moving slowly means it’s been out for too long.
For instance, lobsters and crabs often starve themselves in tanks. If they’ve been imprisoned inside a tank for weeks, often they can be almost empty inside once you crack them open.
Frozen seafood doesn’t have a bad connotation. In fact, it can be comparable or superior in quality to fresh seafood. Commercially frozen fish is rapidly frozen at its peak freshness, so consumers can find a wide variety of top-quality seafood in the freezer case. When thawed the right way, it exhibits the freshness of fishes that aren’t frozen.
Frozen fish and shellfish should be packaged in a moisture-proof, close-fitting package. The package should still have its original shape. Don’t go for packages that are open, torn, or crushed on the edges.
- Order in the load line
Select packages from below the load line of the freezer case. Try not to opt for the ones positioned above the “frost line” or top of the freezer case.
- Signs of frost
The wrapping should be intact with little to no visible ice. Avoid those with signs of frost or ice crystals, which may indicate that it’s either stored for a long time or thawed then refrozen.
Fish should be frozen solid with zero signs of freezer burn, like discoloration or drying on the surface. Frozen seafood should also have no unpleasant odor.
Author Bio: Mina Natividad is a passionate daytime writer for Manettas Seafood Market, an online and interactive seafood hub which provides customers a true, first-class fish market experience without leaving home. Since she’s a seafood lover herself, she’s got a lot to say about food, well-being, and lifestyle.