How To Buy The Best Fish
This quick guide will give you the basics on buying fresh fish. Don’t be scared be bold and give it a try.
Look for vibrant flesh. All fish fade as they age. If the fillet still has skin, that skin should look as pristine as the skin on an equally good whole fish – shiny and metallic.
Smell it. The smell test is especially important with fillets. They should have no pungent aromas.
Is there liquid on the meat? If so, that liquid should be clear, not milky. Milky liquid on a fillet is the first stage of rot.
If the fishmonger lets you, press the meat with your finger. It should be resilient enough so your indentation disappears. If your fingerprint remains, move on.
Look for bright, clear eyes. The eyes are the window to a truly fresh fish, for they fade quickly into gray dullness. Dull-eyed fish may be safe to eat, but they are past their prime.
Next look at the fish. Does it shine? Does it look metallic and clean? Or has it dulled or has discolored patches on it? If so, it is marginal.
Smell it. A fresh fish should smell like clean water, or a touch briny or even like cucumbers. Under no circumstances should you buy a nasty smelling fish. Cooking won’t improve it.
Look at the gills. They should be a rich red. If the fish is old, they will turn the color of faded brick.
Buy only at the finest fish markets. These are the places where turnover is so rapid you can be assured of fresh mussels, clams or oysters. You may still get a dead one, but the ratio will be far lower.
What is a dead one? Shellfish are sold alive, so they should react to you. Put them on the countertop and back away for a moment. Then tap the shell: It should close tighter than it was. Oysters are a little tough to do this with, but clams and mussels will definitely react. You can also tell a dead shellfish after you’ve cooked them all. Dead ones do not open after being cooked. Throw them away.
Buy them whole and frozen. Whole because the shell protects them from the rigors of being frozen without losing too much moisture, and frozen because shrimp cook – and rot – very rapidly.