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Tips for Buying Fresh Fish and Seafood

Fresh fish can be hard to track down. Unless you caught the fish yourself (presumably by throwing  spear into the cold, hard ocean like an agile young warrior), you may have little idea as to how fresh it really is. However, with these tips, you should be able to choose the best, most straight-out-of-the-ocean fish available at the market!

How to Pick a Fresh Fish

  1.  For a whole fish, look for clear, bright eyes and shiny, metallic skin. If its eyes are clouded gray, and its skin has a dull patchiness to it, it’s far from optimum freshness (though still safe to eat). The color of the gills is also a good indicator of freshness; bright red gills signify newness, while brick red gills mean the fish is older. Another good sign is the smell of the fish itself: if it smells clean or a little salty, that’s great – if it stinks, leave it be.
  2. To pick a good fish fillet, look for vibrant colors in the flesh, and clean, shiny scales if the fish still has its skin. It should be free of milky-looking liquids (which is a sign of rot), and definitely should not smell bad. Further, if you’re allowed to press your finger against the fish’s flesh, the indentation should disappear in a fresh fish.

How to Pick Fresh Shellfish

  1. It’s usually best to only purchase shellfish at very good fish markets* where the turnover rate is quick, so you can be sure that the stock is always going to be pretty new and thus, still alive. Dead shellfish do not open when they’re cooked and must be thrown away.
  2. If the shellfish is alive, it should react to you; if you let them rest on the counter for a second and then tap on their shell, they should become slightly tighter or more closed.
  3. Scallops are an exception to the typical shellfish norm, since they are almost always sold shucked. It’s better to buy ones that have not been stored in brine, or have been frozen and vacuum-sealed. Avoid the ones that have been packed wet – they are usually surrounded by a strange, milky liquid.
  4. Shrimp should be purchased shelled and frozen: the shell keeps the shrimp from losing moisture when it’s frozen, and it frozen is best because shrimp tends to rot very quickly. If you have access to a reliable source of very fresh shrimp, obviously that will better – just buy them with the head on to keep them moister longer!

*Note: A “very good fish market” will never be stinky. If you walk into a market that reeks of low tide, walk straight back out, because there’s unlikely to be great fish to be had there.

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Photo Credits: Free Foto, NC Fresh Seafood, Iaam

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