For many home chefs fish can be one of the more foreign proteins to prepare. The first hurdle in preparing a tasty fish dinner is ensuring your fish is fresh. To do this there are a few basic guidelines that apply to most fresh fish. This guide is meant for fresh fish fillets. There are different steps to take into consideration when purchasing shellfish, live fish or whole fish.
1. Inspect the Fillet
The color of the fillet should be vibrant. Over time the meat will become dull and dimmer. A fresh fillet will be vibrant in color and look inviting. This rings especially true for salmon, steelhead, and tuna but remains consistent through most types of fish. Also look out for any juices or liquid on the fillet. Anything that you see should be clear and not milky. Milky juices coming from a fillet is one of the early signs of rot.
2. Smell the Fish
Unsurprisingly the first thing you should do before purchasing any fish is to give it a good whiff. Fresh fish will have a mild smell if any. If the fish smells overly fishy or nasty in any way move on to the next one. You won’t be able to cook out the fishy smell.
3. Feel The Fish
There are a couple of things you’re looking for when feeling a fish fillet. If the fillet has it’s skin on still feel the skin. The skin should be slimy and wet. If the skin is dried out move on from that particular fish. Dried skin could be anything from improper storage to an old fillet. The next thing you want to feel is the meat itself (remember always make sure it’s okay before just grabbing a fillet). The meat should be reasonably firm to the touch. It’s not going to be as firm as steak or chicken but should hold up under pressure. If the fish falls apart in your hands or doesn’t respond to pressure it’s a bad sign.
4. Taste The Fish (optional)
If you’re buying fish for Sushi – or are planning on eating the fish raw don’t be afraid to ask for a taste first. This won’t always be an option, but it never hurts to ask. I’ve seen this mostly done with Scallops, Tuna, and Salmon as those are the most common for raw or undercooked consumption. Most of the time you can tell the quality and freshness of a fish from looking and smelling but it never hurts to give it a taste. Most of the time this step can be skipped – especially if you trust the market you’re getting it from.
These are four of the top ways to ensure your fish fillet is fresh and ready for consumption. We recommend following through with this process not only when you first purchase the fish, but also before you eat it. It never hurts to double check your fish – especially if it’s been sitting for a day or two.
*This guide is meant to give some basic knowledge and general guidelines to picking out fish. The best way to learn is from a trusted expert at your local fish market.