Monday, 1 December 2008 | Tags:

Considered high in essential nutrients, as well as low in fat, fish is as popular a meal now as it has been through the ages. If you like to cook, here are some tips on how to buy a good quality fish.


The Basics

  • If you’re buying a whole fish, look at the eyes. They should be bright and shiny, which means it’s fresh. Avoid fish with eyes that are the least bit cloudy or glazed over.

  • Only fish that aren’t fresh actually smell fishy. Pick a fish that has little or no smell, and moist, shiny skin.

  • Gills should be bright red or pink and clean. If the gills are brownish gray, it is either bruised or old.

  • Flesh should be firm and elastic, and cling tightly to the bones. If an indentation remains after touched, it’s probably old.

  • Fish caught with “long-line” techniques as opposed to “net-caught” practices are handled individually, therefore less prone to bruising.

  • Fresh vs. frozen:

    • Whenever possible, it’s best to use fresh fish. Frozen fillets tend to fall apart easier when they thaw.

    • However, fish that have been flash frozen (frozen on the boat right after they’re caught) may actually be fresher than fresh fish, which may have sat in cold storage for a few days before reaching the market.

    • To determine if a fish has been properly frozen, it should be somewhat shiny and have no white freezer-burn spots. It also should be hard as a rock, with no evidence of previous defrosting.

Tuna Tips

  • When shopping for fresh tuna, it should smell ocean fresh, not fishy.

  • Look for moist, translucent flesh with tightly adhering, shiny scales.

  • Fresh tuna flesh is pink or red, without any hint of browning (other than the natural darker brown area). Prime tuna steaks look like raw beef because of the deep red colour of the flesh.

  • Look for the “dolphin-friendly” logo on the tuna to make sure it was caught using dolphin-safe nets.

  • Avoid any pieces that look dry or have brown spots on them. Also avoid any with a rainbow sheen on it.

  • There are several kinds of tuna available at different times of the year – albacore, bluefin, and skipjack. Ahi tuna is also known as yellowfin or yellowtail tuna and is often served as sashimi.

  • Blue fin tuna is coveted by sushi chefs for its high fat content and long-lasting color, and the big eye for its rich, hearty flavour. However, blue fin tuna is severely endangered due to massive over fishing, so consider buying other alternatives. (see Other Considerations for sources.)

  • Look for fillets that are bright red in colour, not dull, darkened, or dry looking.For sashimi, buy loins or fillets that are at least 1 inch thick as thin fillets will become dry and tough.

  • When storing tuna fillets at home in the refrigerator, tightly wrap them in plastic wrap or foil and place on a dish of ice instead of just on the shelf. This is because the optimum temperature for keeping tuna fresh is -1 or -2 degrees Celsius and many refrigerators are not cold enough to do so.

  • Try to avoid purchasing Ahi tuna that has too many distinct white lines in the flesh. This is a soft sinew and has a slight stringy texture that will pull away easily from the flesh when chopped.

  • Most tuna fillets should only be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days before cooking, but it can be frozen for 2 to 3 weeks.

Tuna Steak Tips

  • At the grocery store, butcher, or seafood shop, tuna steak should be displayed on top of ice, have a fresh, non-fishy smell, be deep red in colour, and firm and thick to the touch.

  • Tuna steak should be at least 1-inch thick, since it cooks quickly and will become dry and tough if thin.

  • When storing tuna steak at home in the fridge, tightly wrap it and place in a dish of ice, instead of just on the shelf.

  • Tuna steak should only be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days before cooking, but it can be frozen for 2 to 3 weeks.

  • Rare is the preferred done-ness for serving.

Salt Cod Tips

  • Look for salt cod near the fish counter in specialty food stores or Italian, Portuguese, or Caribbean delis.

  • Salt cod can be purchased in two forms:

    • Whole, bone-in, skin-on filets ranging from 1-5 pounds available in specialty stores, or

    • Packaged boneless, skinless filets, which are pricier and more widely available in supermarkets.

  • When shopping for whole filets, look for whitish flesh with no spots or discolouration. The fish should smell mildly of the sea and be dry to the touch.

  • When using bone-in filets, purchase about twice the weight called for in the recipe to account for the skin and bones. Don’t forget to remove the skin and bones before you cook the cod.

  • After soaking either kind, pinch off a piece of the fish and taste it – it should be pleasantly but not overpoweringly salty.

Anchovy Fillet Tips

  • As with any fresh fish, look for bright eyes. But don’t worry if you can’t find fresh anchovies that aren’t blemished – the flesh is soft and bruises easily.

  • Use your nose to help judge freshness – when anchovies begin to spoil, they begin to really stink.

  • Since most recipes only call for a small amount, anchovy paste is a popular option. It comes in a tube and usually contains added vinegar, spices, and water.

  • Canned anchovies, both whole and fillets, are readily available in 2-ounce cans and tend to be found in Italian markets. They are packed in salt, olive oil, or vinegar.

  • Salted anchovies begin to lose quality as soon as the tin is opened, so only buy what you need. If you don’t use all the anchovies within a few days, don’t keep them in the can. Wash the salt off and pack them in a jar filled with olive oil, seal with a lid, and refrigerate.

  • If the anchovies are packed in salt, make sure to rinse off the extra salt before eating or cooking as they will be too salty to consume.

  • For a less salty version, buy anchovies packed in olive oil.

Catfish Tips

  • Fresh catfish is usually the most flavorful, but you can also find frozen catfish at your local grocer. (Avoid buying catfish at a questionable business that you don’t know well.)

  • Fresh or frozen, be sure packages are sealed tightly.

    • Never buy packages that are damaged, or have holes or tears in them.

    • Frozen catfish should be hard as a rock – never partially thawed, or the fish could be bad.

  • When purchasing unfrozen catfish, look for telltale signs that it’s fresh.

    • The flesh should look white and moist, not dried up.

    • It should feel firm (not mushy), and spring back when you touch it.

  • One of the characteristics of catfish is that it doesn’t have a “fishy” smell to it. The best catfish also doesn’t have a strong “fishy” taste. Instead, it has a mild, almost sweet taste to it.

  • If you’re going to purchase a catfish that hasn’t been completely cleaned (i.e., the head is still attached to the body) then check its eyes. It should have clear eyes that aren’t sunken in, otherwise it’s not fresh.

Sardine Tips

  • Sardines are packed with Omega-3 essential fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and calcium.

  • When buying fresh sardines, look for whole fish that are clean-smelling, with eyes and gills that appear clear. Avoid any with red eyes or a red blush around the gill plate.

  • Avoid bruised fish and any that look like they are starting to rupture, especially the belly area. This is a sign of an old fish.

  • To prepare a whole, round sardine for use, place in a bowl of cold water, gently rub off the scales with your fingertips, slice open the belly, remove the innards with your fingers, and thoroughly wash the entire fish.

  • Don’t freeze fresh sardines because their oils can turn rancid and the flesh turns mushy when thawed.

  • Canned sardines are available at most supermarkets and come packed in oil or tomato sauce.

Other Considerations


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