Without a doubt, I always say, “ask the man behind the counter,” when you find yourself in over your head at the meat, cheese, and seafood counter. If it were all so easy, he wouldn’t be there. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know the basics when it comes to buying the best quality seafood.
While some of us are lucky to live close to the source, whether that is the ocean, lake, or river, others know that in order to enjoy seafood at dinner, it has to travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles, before it arrives at our local fish market or grocery store. There is a lot of potential for spoilage along the way, so before you shell out your hard earned money for that seafood dinner you’ve been thinking about all week, make sure you are getting the best quality for your dollar.
To help out in your seafood selections, we’ve created a short list to keep in mind when shopping for fish at your local fishmonger:
Seafood has a season. You may have heard the saying to never order oysters in months that don’t contain an “r.” This might just sound like folklore, but really all it means is that oysters aren’t in season during the summer months. Salmon is most abundantly available, and at its best during its spawning season from mid-May through July. There are also apps to help you find the freshest seafood in your region, like this app from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Look for clear eyes. If you are buying a whole fish, the first thing to check are the eyes. As soon as the fish begins to age, the eyes will dry out. Sunken, lusterless eyes are a sign your fish is past its prime.
The skin should be shiny. If the skin looks dull, flaky, or shows signs of cracking, then the fish has begun the drying out process.
The flesh should be firm. If allowed, gently poke the fish. The flesh should spring back and be slimy to the touch. If the flesh is sticky or mushy, it is a sign this fish isn’t worth buying.
Frozen fish can be as good as fresh fish. Frozen fish gets a bad rap, but if your fish was frozen immediately after being caught, it might be tastier than some of the “fresh” fish in the case. Ice crystals are a sign that the fish wasn’t frozen properly, so avoid fish with any indications of freezer burn. Otherwise, carefully defrost your fish slowly in a refrigerator for the best and safest results.