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Fresh Fish 101: Buying, Storing & Cooking

Photo: Colin Clark

To help home cooks make the best choices, we've compiled a list of tips and tricks for navigating the seafood counter.

When it comes to sustainability, the waters are murky at best. Buying, cooking, and enjoying fish may seem like a challenge when you're awash with confusing and sometimes conflicting information. By following our guidelines, handling seafood responsibly becomes a breeze.

AT THE MARKET

  • Ask Questions: Is the fish farmed or wild? Where's it from: ocean, country, region, locality? If wild, how was it caught?
  • First Glance: Look for uniformly colored, shiny flesh. Reddish-brown bruises indicate mishandling. For whole fish, look for clear, bulging eyes, bright red gills, and moist, flat tails.
  • Off the Rocks: Avoid skinless fillets stored directly on ice–ice and water damage fish flesh.
  • Press Test: Fresh fish feels firm and springy. Press lightly–if a dent stays, the fish is old, previously frozen, or both. Skin should be moist, not slimy.
  • The Nose Knows: Fresh fish–and a good seafood market–smell faintly and pleasantly like the ocean. If it's fishy, it's off.
  • Ice It: Have the fishmonger put your watertight-wrapped purchase in a bag of crushed ice.

AT HOME

  • Keep It Cold: Store in the coldest part of your fridge, usually the bottom shelf toward the back.
  • Tight Seal: To store longer than a couple of hours, wrap fillets tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap or a zip-top plastic bag, place in a larger container, and cover with ice. Drain and add ice as needed. Still, try to cook as soon as possible after purchasing–it's not getting any fresher.
  • Store as They Swim: Surround whole fish with ice in a deep container in the same position as they swim–dorsal fins upright– to avoid flesh damage and let cavity fluids drain.

AT THE STOVE

  • Pat Dry: Gently dab with paper towels before cooking. Surface moisture hinders browning and crisp skin and can make fish stick in the pan.
  • Season: Add salt immediately before or during cooking so crystals don't have time to remoisten surface flesh.
  • Test Doneness: Slide a metal skewer or paring knife into the side of the thickest part of the fillet: If it slips in without resistance, it's ready. Or, press the thick part lightly with your finger. It's done if it gives and doesn't spring right back. Don't wait too long to check–fish often cooks faster than you think.