Is It Fresh? What to Look For When Buying Fish

Monahan's Seafood Market | Fresh Whole Fish, Fillets, Shellfish, Recipes, Catering & Lunch Counter-Ann Arbor, Michigan

When buying whole fish:

1. The eyes should look clear, not sunken and cloudy.

2. The gills should be moist and red (not dry and discolored.) The gills should also have a light seaweedy, briny, ‘smell of the sea’. They are fast to deteriorate and a good indication of freshness. We sniff gills all day long at the market!

3. The flesh should be firm to the touch. If you poke the fish and it leaves a dent it is breaking down. It should spring back to shape if the fish is fresh.

4. The whole fish should have a moist sheen to it, the natural slime or ‘butter’ that protects the skin should still be there. If it looks dried out and tired stay away. A nice full, moist, vibrant look of freshness is what you’re looking for.

VIDEO: Ask The Fish Monger #1: How do I know if a fish is fresh?

fresh whole fish

There’s nothing better than a fillet of fish at the market that was just cut from a fresh whole fish, keeping all the moisture, flavor and goodness intact. We fillet a lot of our fish fresh at the market: cod, flounder, bluefish, striped bass, mackerel, snappers, and lots more!

When buying fillets a lot of the same rules apply as whole fish:

1. Does it look moist? After a fish is filleted it loses moisture by the minute. First it will take on a dull or opaque look. Next it will actually begin to look dry. Later on that dryness can later cause discoloration, maybe dark spots, and an uneven color. This is where the ‘nose knows’. Don’t be afraid to ask your fishmonger to let you take a whiff. If he hesitates or thinks you’re crazy you should probably move on. Fresh fish will have, like whole fish, a pleasant seaweedy ‘smell of the sea’. Whether it’s a stronger fish like a mackerel or bluefish or a more delicate fish like a cod or sole.

2. “What came in today?” is a frequently asked question at the market. It’s a good question—but because a lot of fish is at sea for several days (or weeks) the BEST question should be, “What’s in season, and looking great today?” or “What’s super fresh today?” or even, “What are you, the fishmonger, having for dinner tonight?” Proper handling is what is important. Was the fish bled and iced properly? Stored on the boat in smaller tubs (so they don’t squeeze the life out of each other)? Kept at a constant temperature just above freezing? AND shipped to the market fast.

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Monahan's Seafood

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