Since fish are so good for us, it's vitally important to buy only the freshest fish possible. The freshness of the fish and shellfish we buy will directly impact the success of our finished product, and in some cases, our health.
If you purchase your fish at a fish market, you need to ask the fishmonger (yes, they are still called that) several questions. These questions include:
Where was this fish caught?
When did it arrive at the market?
Who is the wholesaler?
Has this fish ever been frozen? (Fish that have been frozen and thawed should never be refrozen.)
Most reputable fishmongers use only the most reliable wholesalers, wholesalers who provide them with only the freshest and highest quality fish.
Fresh fish have a "ten minute margin." This means that fish should never, never be out of the refrigerator, or off a bed of ice for more than ten minutes. This should be your very first consideration when buying fish - whether or not they've been kept properly refrigerated or iced.
Many otherwise very good cooks will buy fish at their local grocery or fish market, then spend another twenty to thirty minutes or so continuing with their shopping or driving home. This can be a very dangerous practice and one that can quickly lead to a nasty case of food poisoning, something no one ever wants. Buy your fish last and ask for ice at the fish counter to keep your purchase cold. If the market doesn't or won't provide ice, then bring your own ice chest with you. This ice chest will also be ideal for transporting the fish from the market or grocery to your home.
No matter what type of fish or shellfish you purchase, there are several things to keep in mind to ensure obtaining the freshest product possible:
Notice the fish's eyes. One of the very best signs of freshness in a whole fish is clear, shiny eyes. If the eyes are milky or dark, forego the fish, as it isn't fresh.
Choose fish with bright, almost metallic looking skin. If the skin looks dull and creamy, choose another fish.
Look for gills that are brightly colored, not clouded and slimy.
A very strong odor in a dead fish is a bad sign. A fresh fish has a very fishy, yet mild scent, something akin to seaweed.
The flesh of the fish should be firm to the touch. It should spring back when you press it (and you should definitely press it). If it's limp and dull, select another fish.
Fish are one of the healthiest foods we can eat, but they are also quite delicate. Ensuring freshness will protect the health of both you and your family.