How to Purchase Fresh Fish

This month I am going to explain what to look for when buying fresh fish.

I get asked all the time about this subject. Luckily we live in an area that does get a wide variety of fresh fish.

We do have a few local seafood purveyors around town and the occasional grocery store might have some as well.
Let’s start with whole fish, usually it is already gutted and often scaled for you.

The first thing I look for is that the eye is clear, bright in color, and not sunken in at all. I can tell a lot about a fish just by this.

If it is cloudy or sunken in it is generally a sign the fish is old.  Next, I will check the gills, which should be bright red. If they are brown do not buy it.

If the scales are present they should be intact, shiny, and have a vibrant color.
It should look like a fish that just came out of the water.

Then I will look at the fins. They should look intact and moist. If they look dried out or missing fins it’s generally a bad sign.

Finally, I smell the fish. It should have a fresh ocean smell

Now I will touch the fish. It should have a mild slime to it. I will lightly press the fish to see if it springs back.

If you press it and your fingerprint is present in the fish it is a sign of old fish. It should be nice and firm.

Finally, I smell the fish. It should have a fresh ocean smell. If you smell a fishy smell at all this is an immediate red flag. Also, if you smell any hint of ammonia stay away.

The fillet should look neat and trimmed. It shouldn’t look like someone filleted it with a hammer

Now let’s go over buying fillets. It is a little harder to know how old a fillet is just by looking at it. I usually start just by how the fillet looks.

If it is visually appealing start with that. The fillet should look neat and trimmed. It shouldn’t look like someone filleted it with a hammer.

If it is jagged or torn looking go with something else.  Next I check its color, it should look moist and glossy.

If it looks dried out around the edges or the fish has different colors then usually it’s a sign it has been sitting there a while. It shouldn’t have any discoloration.

Next, touch the fillet. It should be firm.  Then I will smell it. It should still have a clean ocean smell. If it smells fishy or has an ammonia smell do not buy it.

Sometimes it can be really hard to tell if your fillet was frozen but ask what is fresh.  It should look good enough that you would want to buy it.

When I go into my local seafood shop I will ask what is local first

If you are questioning any of the above information then go with something else. Also, be cautious if you see a fish that is on sale.

It could mean it is old and they are trying to push it out the door.

When I go into my local seafood shop I will ask what is local first and then I will ask what just came in. They usually will be accommodating.

There is nothing wrong with buying fish from a different area but just be cautious that it probably has been out of the water a few days and fresh fish does not have a long shelf life.

When you do purchase the fish take it right home and put it in the fridge. I would suggest eating it that night, but if you do put it in the fridge eat it within a few days max.

– Chef Kyle Kryske is a native of Pascagoula, MS. He has resided in Charleston for 15 years & has been cooking in restaurants for 18 years. He has worked in MS, AK, NC, and SC. and is Chef de Cuisine at Coast Restaurant in Charleston. Kyle is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University. When he is not working he is either inshore or offshore fishing.

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