It is no wonder people are hesitant to cook fish at home if they are uncertain about where and how to buy good fresh fish. If you start with smelly old fish, what you are cooking is going to result in an awful, finished product, no matter how good of a cook you are. Knowing where to obtain quality goods is key to making great food. Pictured above is golden trout from my neighborhood fish purveyor. I am fortunate to have Carol as manager of the local market where I buy fish. Carol manages her fish counter with the proper turnover of the fish and knowing the correct amounts to order, so that her customers can rely on fresh product with each purchase. If you can find a good fishmonger like Carol, you are halfway there to cooking great fish at home.
Here are a few tips to consider when buying fish:
- As you approach the fish counter, it should not smell "fishy". Fresh fish smells like the sea, the ocean or the stream from where the fish came. If the area smells "fishy" the fish could be old and not well kept.
- Looking at the fish display case, it should be well-iced and clean. Same with the working area behind the fish display. If there is fish sitting out on a back work counter with no one attending to it, the fish is losing its freshness and breaking down as the temperature of the fish is rising to dangerous numbers. Fresh fish needs to stay on ice to maintain its quality. Same goes for when you bring it home. Keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
- Ask when the fish came into the store. It should no more than a few days old. Do they receive it as a whole fish or already cut into portions? If they are receiving whole fish or entire sides of filleted fish, it will be fresher for you. Less handling is better. You want fish that came directly from the water, to the boat, to the store. Of course, if you are not fortunate enough to live near the shore, the fish is express over-night shipped from the docks to the store. Living in the mid-west, we can't get much fresher than that.
- Buy fish that is abundant and in season. Just like produce, some fish are seasonal. Not only will you have a better price, but you will also have a fish at its peak of goodness.
- Frozen fish can be good but know what you are buying. The fish in the display case should tell you whether it was previously frozen or is fresh. If not, ask the fishmonger. If the fish appears dull and ragged, don't buy it. The fish should almost glisten, have clean edges and the flesh should be smooth. And it shouldn't smell fishy! Frozen fish in the vacuum packaging can usually be relied on. It is caught, filleted, frozen within minutes of coming off the boat and shipped as a frozen product. This fish can be fresher than what is sometimes found in the display cases.