Fresh Fish

The best way to judge the freshness of market fish is to use my “show and tell” method: if you can tell it’s a fish before they actually show it to you, leave it at the market!

Fresh fish don’t have that fishy smell. Oh, if there are 200 of them together on the boat, of course they smell like fish…but individually, in the market, they just don’t smell fishy.

Have the fishmonger or deli guy place the fish on a piece of paper and hand to you. Is the fish smelly? Toss it back!

If the fish smells clean, and a bit like the sea, but not fishy, move on to its eyes. Are the eyes still plump, or are they shrunken? If the eyes are dehydrated or shrunken, toss it back! And heaven forbid the fish have slimy or runny eyes! If it does, you don’t want to eat it or serve it to anyone you care about because those runny eyes are a warning to your tummy.

If the fish has passed the smell test and the eyes have it, move on to the scales. Touch your finger gently on the side of the fish. Does the fishfeel like a fish? It is bad news if the fish feels slimy. You should be able to feel the scales, or if it is a small-scale fish, it should feel rather like a good belt or bag.

Buying fish is simple if you remember: If you can tell it is a fish by the smell, before the fellow ever shows it to you, leave it at the market.

Remember, fresh fish is good for you, but if the fish is past its prime, you may well remember this meal for days! You want to remember the great taste of a delectable meal of fried, grilled, or steamed fish, nestled beside a large salad or a pile of steaming chips or fries, not the tragic results of spoiled fish.

And, if you intend to make sushi, you surely cannot afford to go wrong. When you are choosing fish for sushi, your standards should be even higher, as you can’t afford for the fish to be anything less than at its best.

You might also ask the fish market if this fish is fresh catch, or if it has been frozen. Many markets these days freeze their fish to keep them cold, then put them in the deli case to thaw and be sold. This is not fresh fish; this is pre-frozen. It is not a good idea to buy any animal product and refreeze it without cooking, but this is critical in fish. Thus, if you need to freeze the fish you buy, make absolutely certain that it is not pre-frozen.

Let’s be realistic for a moment. If you live in some of our landlocked western states, the chances are your fish has been frozen before you ever see it, regardless of what the market tells you. The cost ship fresh fish daily would be prohibitive, and it’s not like you’ll find a huge supply of fresh fish in the middle of New Mexico or Arizona unless you catch it yourself. So be suspicious of any market in a land-locked state that advertises fresh catch’.

If you don’t intend to refreeze perhaps you’re getting fish for tonight’s supper then pre-frozen is okay. It won’t have the quality of fresh catch, but it is a good compromise over processed fish sticks! Just make a mental note that the next time you go to a seacoast, you’ll try the fresh fish!

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