If transitioning into the pescatarian lifestyle is in your immediate future, then one of the first things you’ll need to know is how to properly select seafood.
Whether shopping at a neighborhood fish counter, specialty market or the local farmers market, choosing the freshest fish can be overwhelming. Buying seafood is often more challenging than cooking it! But this is where Stephanie Harris-Uyidi, host of The Posh Pescatarian, comes to your rescue. Here are a few things I learned on her show The Posh Pescatarian, where she offers tips on buying fish the right way, and shows us quick and easy ways to cook them.
Let Your Senses Be Your Guide
Some of the best tools for selecting quality fish are your senses. Sight, smell and touch are essential.
Before you even look at the seafood, take a look at the store overall. Are the countertops clean? Is the store neat and in order? Is the place lively, suggesting fast turn over of stock? Once the store has passed this first inspection, head over to the seafood counter for a second look.
Check that the fish is well chilled, on ice or a combination of the two. The seafood case itself should be clean of fingerprints, and free of dust and flies (seriously). The fish behind the glass should be glistening and moist. Ultimately, things should look enticing and fresh. If the fish is grey and tired-looking you may need to abandon ship, and head over to the frozen section, or choose a different market.
If you can smell the seafood before you actually arrive to the counter, then you may want to consider shopping elsewhere. Your nose knows! The smell may be coming from the fish, or from processing equipment that has not been properly cleaned, knives and cutting boards are the major culprits. In any case, this is a bad sign, but not a completely hopeless situation.
Take a look at the fish and see if it passes a visual inspection. If so, ask to smell the fish. This may be off-putting at first, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. One way to do it is to ask the fishmonger if you can see the fish. Once you have it in hand, give it a good sniff. It should smell fresh, a bit like cucumber or seawater, but not fishy. If sniffing the fish makes you uncomfortable, make the purchase and sniff the fish once you get back to your car. If it doesn’t pass the smell test, return it for a refund.
If you have the opportunity to touch the fish, which is often the case when buying whole fish, then do so. Use your index finger to give it a gentle nudge. The fish should be firm and resilient. If it feels mushy, then it is probably old and you don’t want it.
Stephanie encourages shoppers to ask questions. “Always ask your fishmonger how long the fish has been in the case,” she advises. “If the fish has been sitting there for a couple of days, you don’t want it. Ask the fishmonger if they have something fresher. They will typically get the hint, and understand that you are a savvy seafood shopper, then you’ll get the good stuff!” Another favorite question is, “what is good today?” This is great way to understand how knowledgeable your fishmonger is about their product and how passionate they are about seafood.
“Fishmongers are the seafood equivalent to a good hair stylist!” says Stephanie. Your fishmonger may not have all the answers, but the more questions you ask, the more they will recognize the need to provide better information to their customers.
Here are some of Stephanie’s favorite things to ask, especially if labels do not provide enough information:
- What country is the seafood from?
- Is the fish wild-caught or farm-raised?
- If it is farmed, how was it grown? (Was it raised in a polluting open net pen or in a contained tank or pond?)
- If it is wild, how was it caught? (Were long lines used, or was it caught by pole? Long lines often catch extra unwanted “by catch.”)
- Are populations of this fish healthy and abundant? (Small, fast-growing fish can withstand more fishing pressure, while large, slow-growing species are more vulnerable to overfishing.)
- Are there eco-friendly alternatives?
- Is this fish really a… (red snapper, wild salmon, grouper, etc.)? These are prime candidates for fish fraud.
No time to discuss everything in full detail as to why these questions are important in this post, but you can learn more about sustainable fishing methods here .
How Long Can You Keep It?
Technically speaking, shelf life of food is defined as the maximum length of time a given product is fit for human consumption. For fish, shelf life is the time from when it is taken from the water until it is no longer fit to eat. The shelf life for fresh seafood is typically 24- 48 hours once your get it home. After that, you’ll need to freeze it, so getting the freshest fish is essential to preparing fabulous meals. For shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels, the shelf life is roughly 12-24 hours once you get them home.
Fresh fish is fish that has never been frozen. Fresh fish smells like seawater or cucumber. Any exposed flesh should appear freshly cut without traces of browning or drying out. If it gives off a strong, objectionable odor, it’s past its prime.
Finfish should have firm, elastic flesh that is unblemished. The skin should be moist with the full characteristic markings and the colors of that species. If the fish has scales, they should adhere closely to the skin and should not be dry or “ruffled” looking. Plan to use fresh fish within two days of purchase. Maximum quality in fresh fish is maintained if fish is loosely wrapped and packed in finely crushed ice to prevent moisture loss. If you are unable to use the fish within two days, go ahead and cook or freeze it. Cooked fish maintains quality in the refrigerator at 32-34 Fahrenheit for two to three days.
Clams, Mussels and Oysters
These mollusks should be alive when sold. If purchased by the pound versus by the bag, your fishmonger should be testing each piece of shellfish before bagging it up (you don’t want to pay for unusable seafood). It’s easy to tell if mollusks are alive because their shells will be closed. If the shells are gaping open, give them a quick tap: this will prompt live mollusks to tightly close their shells.
They will also give off a sweet smell. Clams and oyster should be iced or refrigerated between 34-40 degrees Fahrenheit. Store them dry and uncovered in a pot or bowl in the refrigerator covered by a damp cloth. Be sure they have room to breathe — never store them in a plastic bag where they will suffocate.
Mussels should be placed in a self draining container and covered with ice and then placed in the cooler. The container needs to be able to drain off the melted ice so that the mussels do not drown in the stagnant water. Use either a self draining tub or a colander placed into another bowl underneath it, with the mussels covered with ice placed in the self draining container.
Whole Fresh Fish
“I love preparing whole fish because they are easy to prepare and provide the most flavorful experience,” she notes. “The bones and skin ensure moist, flavorful flesh.” In fact, it is easier to judge the freshness of whole fresh fish than fillets or steaks. Why is because you can look at the eyes, and see how clear and plump they are. Clear and plump equals fresh; cloudy and starting to dry and collapse, not so much. Second, you can check the gills: They should look wet and a lively red/orange/brown color, not dried or dark brown. Third, you can gently press the fish’s flesh to see how well it springs back—if you leave a dent that doesn’t recover at all, move along.
Whole fish is normally the least expensive form of seafood, if it can be carefully processed and fully utilized — as fillets, steaks, loins, even soup stock.
Frozen fish should be purchased solidly frozen. Avoid fish with white, dehydrated areas — this is a sign of freezer burn. Examine the package for ice crystals that may form around the inside of the package or be concentrated in one area of the package. Both of these indicate a moisture loss from the fish flesh, and this is most likely the result of thawing and refreezing. The fish should be wrapped in a moisture-proof and vapor-proof material. Fish wrapped in plastic is generally better if the plastic is vacuum-packed rather than over-wrapped. High-quality frozen fish will have very little or no odor.
Never thaw fish at room temperature, and never refreeze defrosted seafood. Thaw frozen fish by placing in the refrigerator, allowing 18-24 hours per one-pound package to thaw. For a quicker thawing method, place fish under cold, running water.
Seafood Terminology: What’s it all mean?
Once you understand what to look in a seafood market and how to choose the best quality fish, you will run into a host of terminology that proves to be intimidating. The three most common are sustainable, farmed and wild. With a bit of practice the terms will become second nature.
“Put simply, seafood is deemed sustainable when it’s harvested in a way that considers the long-term vitality of the harvested species and the wellbeing of the oceans,” says Stephanie. The topic of sustainability is debatable, but it is important to understand that the choices we make when selecting seafood has an impact of the future of our oceans.
Thanks to a handful of organizations and mobile apps, finding the most sustainable seafood has been made easy. Seafood Watch a program managed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium is among the most popular. The program
According to the Seafood Watch program, some of the most sustainable seafood choices include:
- Arctic Char (farmed)
- Barramundi (US & Vietnam farmed)
- Branzino (Mediterranean farmed)
- Cod: Pacific (Canada & US)
- Bass (US hook and line, farmed)
- Catfish (US)
- Clams, Mussels & Oysters
- Lobster: Spiny (Mexico)
- Prawn: Spot (AK & Canada)
- Rockfish (AK, CA, OR & WA)
- Sablefish/Black Cod (Canada farmed & AK)
- Salmon (AK & New Zealand)
- Sanddab (CA, OR & WA)
- Sardines: Pacific (Canada & US)
- Scallops (farmed)
- Tilapia (Canada, Ecuador & US)
- Trout: Rainbow (US farmed)
- Tuna: Albacore (Pacific troll, pole and line)
- Crab: Blue & Dungeness (US)
- Grouper: Black & Red (US)
- Halibut: Atlantic (farmed)
- Lobster (Bahamas & US)
- Mahi Mahi (US troll & Ecuador)
- Monkfish (US)
- Octopus (Portugal & Spain pot, trap)
- Pollock (Canada longline, gillnet & US)
- Salmon (Canada, CA, OR & WA wild)
- Scallops: Sea (wild)
Farmed and Wild
For flavor and environmental purposes, Stephanie prefers wild fish to farmed. The primary difference between farm-raised fish and wild-caught fish is simple. Farm-raised fish are grown in pens that are often submerged in ponds, lakes or salt water. These pens can also be found on land. Wild-caught fish are caught in their natural environments by fisherman. Some fish, such as salmon, can be both wild-caught and farm-raised.
More than 50 percent of all seafood produced for human consumption is farm-raised, and this number is only expected to increase. By 2030 the World Bank estimates that nearly two-thirds of seafood will be farm-raised.
There is a lot of debate on whether wild-caught or farm-raised is better for the environment. Both types of fish come with their pros and cons.
Thanks to a handful of organizations and mobile apps, finding the most sustainable seafood, be it farmed or wild, has been made easy. Seafood Watch a program managed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium is among the most popular. The program
Halibut and Clams in Banana Leaf