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How to Buy Fresh Fish. Signs of Freshness

Updated on August 29, 2009

If you're like a lot of people, you're a little intimidated by the thought of buying a whole fish, but in reality, it's a lot easier to come home with fish that you know is going to be fresh and tasty when buying a whole fish, than when buying pre cut fillets, that look beautiful plumped on ice, but may have been sitting there for a while

A whole fish reveals it's true age, which for buyers of fish, is a very lucky thing, cause' cooking tasty seafood meals definitely begins at the fishmongers (or wherever you happen to buy fish – there not be a monger involved anymore….).

OK, so you're at the store and you are looking at some whole fish. Here are a few tips for picking a fresh and tasty one.

How to Choose a Fresh Fish

  1. Look at the eyes. Very fresh fish have clear eyes, which are bulging. Older fish have cloudy eyes that are sagging inwards. Saggy, is not good.
  2. Smell the fish. Fish that smells fishy is old. Fish that smells like the sea (briny) is fresh.
  3. The body should be covered in a kind of "slime". Now, normally we don't think of slime as a good thing when selecting our dinner, but fish that sit around on ice for a while, dry up and lose their sea coating.
  4. The fish should feel plump and firm. Press in on the body of the fish; the flesh should bounce back. If your finger leaves an indentation mark that stays, then the fish is older.
  5. Open up the gills (or, have the guy behind the counter wearing the plastic gloves do it for you. Here in Asia, where I currently am, buyers inspect a fish thoroughly and personally before purchase, and this includes a lot of touching. In America and other places, your grocer may frown on this level of physical contact!). Gills that are bright and dark in coloration are a sign of fresher fish. As the fish ages, the gills get more pale in color, browner.

Fish that is caught and then prepared and stored correctly (on ice or frozen) on it's way to market will taste better than more recently caught fish that was stored improperly. Much of what you see on display at the fish counter, even whole fish, was likely once flash frozen. This is OK, even good, but the fish will continue to deteriorate once thawed and sitting on display.

Buying frozen fish is actually a very good way to ensure a fresh product, but this may not be as convenient when stopping on the way home from work to find something for dinner.

Good luck!

A Video Guide to Fresh Fish Buying


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      Dr.Sushil Mathur 6 years ago

      Good information I would like to add more Firm flesh,shiny,firm tail not limping,no slime as slime/mucous shows infection on skin resulting in mucous secretion by fish,Skin without white or Black spots as they are sign of white spot disease and microsporidians cause black spot diseases.If you see live fishes for purchase see that fish is swimming properly it is not rubbing the wall due to irritation of some parasite,better skin the fish before preparation as one get rid off external parasites.In India we generally take fish in the months which have (R) in it like Septembe(R).and don't buy in May,June,July,Aug.due to breeding season and fish are likely to get these months and tempt conditions favour diseases because of poor refregeration facilities for this flesh.

    • The Good Cook profile image

      The Good Cook 8 years ago

      I like eating fish but it has always been the one thing I absolutely will not cook - I hate the smell. Good information for others though.

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      This is very informative. I have a place right around the corner that sells fresh fish like the ones you mentioned. Thanks again, John.