“Choosing quality fish is easy if you know what to look for and where. A simple check at your local grocery store or fish market will tell you if the fish is fresh or pre-frozen; whether she is being treated correctly or not; whether she is healthy or not,”- Ivan Mamai, brand-chef of the Moremania cafes.
Chilled fish is widely available in large, medium and small supermarkets, but popularity does not mean quality. It is highly likely that when buying, you will come across a fish thawed several times or one for which the refrigerated sales deadline came out a couple of days ago.
How to choose the right whole fish?
The most important characteristics to look out for when choosing fish are smell, color of eyes, gills and scales.
Naturally, the most important characteristic is smell. Fresh fish shouldn't smell like … fish, however paradoxical it might seem. The fish should smell like "water" if this comparison says something: fresh water is a habitat for fish, but not a heavy fishy spirit. Any odors of ammonia or other medications indicate staleness and poor quality of the fish.
Start checking the fish with your eyes. As a rule, the eyes of fresh fish are crystal clear, plump, moist and shiny. If your eyes look good, you can bet with a reasonable amount of confidence that the fish is fresh and healthy. As soon as the fish starts to deteriorate, the eyes dry out, become cloudy and drown.
The tail and dorsal fins of the fish should be moist and intact. The fins of mishandled fish are torn or uneven, while older fish will have dry and brittle fins. Broken and uneven fins belong to fish that have been kept in the net for too long.
If possible, touch the fish. It should be cold, damp and slippery, but not sticky. When you press on the fish, the skin should return to its natural shape. If it doesn't come back, this is a sure sign that the meat has softened and is no longer worthy of your money. Remember: fish that have lost their elasticity are no longer fresh.
Check the gills for vitality and color. When first caught, the gills of the fish turn bright red and slowly darken over time. The brighter the color, the fresher the fish. The gills should also be clean and cool. Dark gills indicate that the myoglobin in the fish's blood has oxidized and converted to metmyoglobin (a protein that cannot carry oxygen), which leads to darkening of the gill tissues.
In fresh fish, the scales are shiny, hard, tightly attached to the body. In fish, stale scales come off easily, fall off and appear dry.
If you prefer to buy parts of fish (not whole fish), the advice below will help you choose the freshest product possible.
Check color and consistency
For white fish such as cod or halibut, the meat should be translucent. If it is opaque and white, it is a sign that the meat is not fresh.
For dark meats such as tuna or salmon, the meat should be bright and very rich in color. Look for clear color contrast between fat and muscle.
For any type of fish, make sure the meat is wet and shiny. Sticky and dry fish are likely to have been handled improperly (e.g. kept at a warm temperature), frozen and thawed several times, or just old (see also: Can I Eat Fish Every Day).
How to choose frozen fish?
Frozen fish can be surprisingly even better and tastier than fresh fish. In fact, the world's best tuna almost always freezes in the sea after being caught. Here are some tips for choosing and using frozen fish:
Check with the seller how the fish was frozen. Frozen fish often gets a bad name because companies and fishmongers wait for them to age to freeze them. However, if frozen immediately after being caught, it tastes good when thawed. It should be frozen very quickly, preferably immediately after it dies, and at very low temperatures, around -30 ° C, to minimize tissue damage.
Remember that the most correct way to defrost fish is in the refrigerator: you just need to place the frozen fish on a plate or tray in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Yes, it will thaw faster on the countertop, but thawing in the refrigerator will better protect your food.
Photo: Getty Images
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