How to Select Fresh Fish at the Market

Fresh Fish on Ice

Fish, in general, are easy and quick to cook.  Their proteins firm up nicely under heat or acid, and provide a smooth and consistent mouth feel unlike any other, hence the widespread success of sushi.  It is as important to know how to shop for fish as it is to know how to cook fish.

It is best, but not always possible, to buy the fish with the head on, and have the fishmonger cut it for you.  Fish that is fresh should have bright, clear, and convex eyes and red gills, and should have no fishy odor, but instead should smell of brine or seaweed, or cucumber.  Fishy fish is not fresh fish.  Cut flesh should look freshly cut, without trace of drying out.  Fish with scales should not look dry or “ruffled” looking.  The scales should stick closely to the skin. 

Fresh fish should be cooked within 2 days of purchase.  This makes it part of the immediate meals after grocery shopping.  The cooked fish then will last another 2 days in the fridge before it should be discarded.  Fish that is not cooked within 2 days should be frozen.

Frozen Fish should be frozen solid, without white dry areas, which indicate freezer burn.   Ice crystals inside indicates the fish is drying out, which results from thawing and refreezing.  Vacuum-packed fish is preferable over simple plastic wrapped fish.  Frozen fish should be defrosted in the refrigerator or under cold running water, and should not have a fishy odor, either.

Fish is wonderful to eat when cooked simply, such as poached or seared.  A simple condiment, squeeze of citrus, or a sauce is all that is necessary to top a piece of fish.  There are a wide range of traditional sauces for fish, but a simple fruit salsa, quick and simple to make with just a few ingredients, is magical on top of a piece of seared fish.


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