As someone who grew up in Kansas City, I wasn’t exposed to great fish. Sure, the barbecue was (and still is!) great, but my fish options were limited, consisting of Red Lobster’s catch of the day (We live at least 1,000 miles from any ocean…what day are they talking about?), frozen fish sticks and whatever those things were in my brother’s aquarium. I refused to eat any of it.
But then I got older, moved away and learned that fish, if fresh, is mighty tasty and ridiculously good for you. It’s low in fat, high in protein, and chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B2 (riboflavin). It’s also an incredible source of calcium, phosphorus, iodine, magnesium, zinc and potassium. And, as if that’s not enough, it helps lower blood pressure and helps reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.
If you don’t believe some barbecue-eating clown from Kansas City, you can trust the American Heart Association — they recommend eating fish at least twice a week.
Now that we’re going to eat it, let’s get the best, freshest fish we can find.
I know that stepping up to the fish counter at the supermarket can be as intimidating as stepping up to a craps table in a crowded casino — you’re never 100 percent sure if you know what you’re doing, but you’re quite certain that you’re gambling. So, let’s take away the risk and take home some winning fish!
There are tons of great types of both freshwater and saltwater fish out there, and I recommend you try as many as possible — it will be an adventure. If you adhere to the following criteria, it will be a much less dangerous adventure.
Whole Fresh Fish
If you’re one of those sturdy folk who don’t mind your dinner looking at you before you eat it, whole fresh fish is a great option. When purchasing your new dinner/friend, consider the following:
The eyes are the window to the sole (I couldn’t help myself) – If the fish looks hungover, it’s probably not fresh. The eyes should be clear, wet and shiny…not all sunken in. If the eyes look healthy, it’s a strong possibility that this fish is a winner.
Check the fins – If the fins are torn or dry and brittle, move along. This fish is either old or has been mishandled. The fins, like the eyes, should be wet and look healthy.
Take a look at the gills – This one’s easy. The redder, the better. If they’re bright red, go ahead. If the gills are brown, turn it down.
Don’t be afraid to touch it – Give the flesh of the fish a poke. It should bounce back to it’s original shape. If it doesn’t, you don’t want it. Also, the scales should be wet, cool and slick…but not sticky.
The scales don’t lie – The scales should look shiny and tight, not dry and flaky. But don’t only trust your eyes. Run your hand over them. If they shed, this isn’t your fish.
The nose knows – If you’re going for a saltwater fish, make sure it smells briny. If it’s a freshwater fish, it should smell like a pond…a clean pond.
Fillets and Steaks
If it freaks you out to see the fish looking just as he did when he was caught, you might prefer fillets or steaks. Here are a few things to consider when choosing these:
No cracks – No matter what color fish you’re looking it, you shouldn’t see gaps between the muscles, it’s a good indicator that the fish is not fresh and/or has been mishandled.
White-fleshed fish – It should be translucent. If it’s opaque or white, it ain’t right.
Color-fleshed fish – the color should be bright and saturated, with a distinct contrast between the fat and the muscle.
No moisture – if the fish is wrapped in packaging, make sure that there is no pooling liquid. This is a good sign that this fish might be just a little too old for you.
Don’t be afraid of frozen fish. If it’s frozen right when it’s caught (which it often is), it’ll be as fresh as when it was caught. Although the same holds true for fish that was not fresh when it was frozen. It’s not going to be fresh when it thaws. Here are a few things to consider when selecting frozen fish:
Burn is bad – Make sure your fish has no freezer burn or ice crystals.
Make sure it’s sealed well – vacuum sealed fish is always your best bet.
I really hope this helps. If you have any questions at all, please comment below and we’ll get back to you ASAP. If you’re at the market when you have the question, ask for the fishmonger, he’ll be able to help…and it’s fun to say fishmonger.