I love whole fish for a few reasons…
1) I can use the entire thing by making fish stock from the carcass
2) I can see what the fish looks like to assess its freshness and quality
3) I know that I am definitely buying the type of fish that I am paying for
I am often asked by friends how to tell if a fish is fresh but rarely are they brave enough to trust their judgement. Cooking a whole fish is its own reward so I’ve put together this simple guide to have you selecting the freshest fish in the market!
The golden rule of seafood is that it should smell like ocean water, not like seafood. I only really understood the difference when I opened a bag of fresh prawns and was almost thrown against the wall by the smell.
Seafood should smell subtle, not like a fish market. The strong smell of a fish market comes from the scraps more than the seafood on sale so don’t be afraid to put your nose right up close to a fish and smell it – go on, it won’t bite!
The skin of a freshly caught fish is bright and colourful as it displays similar markings to when it was alive. The more time that passes, the more the colour fades. If you are looking at a pink salmon or rainbow tuna but the skin is dull and grey, you should probably change the menu. Moisture should still be visible on the skin, but it shouldn’t be slimy or appear oily.
A sunken eye is simply a sign that the fish has been caught a few days ago, not in the past 24 hours. This is probably slightly acceptable if you are selecting a fish that travelled from the other side of the world, but local fish should have plump and rounded eyes that appear to be alive and moist.
The eyes should never be cloudy, as this is also a sign that the fish isn’t necessarily super fresh. The black pupil should be a clean, solid black and the eye should look moist with a clear glassy appearance. The reality of long distance transport can make this one wishful thinking sometimes, but is still a good sign of the age of the fish.
The texture of the skin should under no circumstances be slimy, but it should be moist as fresh fish still contains a lot of salt water. When you touch the flesh of the fish it should feel firm and the impression should bounce back. If your finger leaves a dent try poking another fish.
How can you tell if you are buying fish from a reputable and trustworthy seller? Often the most talked about fish markets have the worst options for retail customers because the wholesale clients have selected the best of the catch. I have searched far and wide for a good fishmonger in my area and just when I think I have found the holy-grail I am served a rotten fish. I have finally settled on a back alley in China town where I can see for myself what I’m selecting.
Refrigerate immediately – fish can turn quickly, especially if you live in a hotter climate. Don’t spoil all of your hard selection work by leaving it in the sun next to the BBQ for a few hours… fish must be kept cold, preferably at about 4 degrees Celsius.