In our society a paradigm shift has occurred over the last fifteen to twenty years that has given all of us access to seafood that was previously unheard of here in Texas. With overnight shipping and some product arriving at the point of sale live,
consumers have incredible access to a wide variety of seafood choices that can at times seem confusing to the uninitiated. “What should I look for when I purchase fish” is a question that I hear all the time from friends, family and co-workers, so here’s the answer to that question.
Fresh whole fish should be shiny with bright colors and have most of their scales intact (with the exception of catfish which has a different scale texture than other finfish). Your fishmonger should store whole fish at least halfway immersed in crushed ice. There should be no objectionable smell, but an odor of the sea or river is appropriate. The eyes of the fish should be bright and clear with no discoloration or yellowing. Fish that has been improperly stored or is old will have sunken, cloudy eyes. The gills should be bright red to pink in color with no slime on them. The flesh itself should spring back when poked and have no discoloration or spotting.
Fresh cut fillets and steaks should not have a fishy odor, but a saltwater smell for seafood and a river water smell for freshwater fish. The steaks or fillets should be stored on top of ice, with fresh cut edges and no sign of drying, curling or discoloration around the perimeter.
Shellfish such as lobsters, crabs, oysters, mussels and clams should be purchased live and active. Lobster's tails should curl tightly under their bodies when they are handled, and crabs should be moving their legs rapidly. Oysters, mussels and clams should never be purchased if their shells are opened and do not close tightly when tapped. Scallops, both bay and sea, should have a slightly sweet odor and be free of excess liquid if packaged. Shrimp should have a seawater odor, the meat should fill out the shell and they should never be slimy to the touch.
Try to make your seafood purchase the last of your errands to minimize the time that the item is out of refrigeration. If it is hot outside ask your fishmonger to pack the item on crushed ice. Fish should be stored tightly wrapped under refrigeration and live shellfish should be loosely wrapped with air circulation under refrigeration. Use your seafood as soon as possible to ensure the utmost freshness.
A good way to check on sustainability issues concerning seafood is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/seafoodwatch. At this site you can get instant, easy access to information by species and geographical area letting you know what the most responsible consumer choice is, and ensuring that your seafood is as good for the planet as it is for you!
By Chef George Bartel, The Cafe at Daireds
Photo by palestrina55