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If there is a food ingredient that confuses the modern shopper its most definitely seafood —doctors tell us we need to eat more fish there are certainly gobs of them available but when it comes to actually buying most of us get a little confused! So here's a little 101 on fish from Alton Brown of the Food Network:
Smell the airFirst step as soon as you come into a seafood shop — smell the air! Under no circumstances should there be a fishy smell in the air. Smelly fish means fish that are going bad! You might smell a nice marine smell coming off of the crustaceans, but that's it.
Look for iceDon't look at the fish — your tempted to look at the fish. The first thing I look for ICE! Ice is critical, if fish, cut fish especially is not displayed on ice, that means its going bad, if it isn't kept good and cold that means its going bad!
Look for whole fishIf you see a lot of whole fish then you know that a shop is doing their own cutting! That's also critical — if you don't see whole fish then how do you know where the cutting is happening? It could be miles or hours way and the more that you move and handle fish the less fresh its going to be! When you see whole fish you can ask your fishmonger to cut out a fillet from that, then you know that it's really fresh because whole fish stay fresh longer. Once it's cut that's when the shelf life starts to deteriorate.
It looks like a fish, but shouldn't smell like one! If you really want to know if a fish is fresh, close your eyes and smell it shouldn't smell like fish! If any fish smells like fish its already on the backside of its useful life, What I smell is cucumber, a little bit of watermelon sometimes depending on the waters, but cucumbers, that's fresh that's what you want to see!
Look for chalkboardsChalkboards instead of menu boards mean that they are rolling with the punches of the market, and then on a day to day basis they are changing their specials based on what they have! That's good!
Get to know your fishmongerBelieve it or not the most important thing you can do in a seafood shop is to know your fishmonger. If you can befriend and have communication with your fishmonger they are going to take care of you, you don't have to be a fish expert they are the fish expert, but of course you got to make sure they are fish expert, and asking a few basic questions will let you know whether or not that is true. Ask them what they like today? Ask them where the fish is coming from? Ask your fishmonger for cooking advice too!
Buying fish on Mondays?So what's the deal with not buying fish on Mondays? Well its actually a widely held myth when it comes to buying seafood. At one time before supply chains had evolved — maybe Monday meant you were getting Friday's fish. But most reputable fish markets get orders daily.
Common fish myths: Bright eyes and pink gills?There are about a zillion and one myths about how to pick fresh fish! Most people have heard about the bright eyes that fresh fish always have bright eyes, that their gills are always nice and pink! That's not true; there are a lot of different fish and whether they come from cold water or warm water will change a lot of that. You have to look at texture and smell and ask your fish monger the tough questions!