Tip of the Week-Buying and Storing Seafood

Fresh Fish

Trying to buy seafood in the UK or the USA these days is still a hit and miss affair, particularly if you don’t live anywhere near a fishing port. and are in a landlocked region.

If you have a good local fishmonger then use him! But also don’t be afraid of telling him if the fish you bought last Friday was not as fresh as usual, tactfully of course.  Try to build a relationship with your fishmonger, after all, when doing a dinner party, which involves seafood there is nothing more reassuring than knowing your seafood is at the peak of freshness.

In the warmer summer months, I often take a cooler bag with me and several cool blocks when I go shopping so I can put the fresh food items inside and keep them cool. I find this particularly useful when buying seafood. Of course, make sure the seafood is well wrapped before placing into the cooler bag.

Buying Tips

Remember really fresh fish does not have much of a fishy smell, and whilst the seafood counter or market may have a residual “fishy smell” the fish you are buying should not!

Look for clear eyes; they should not be sunken in or cloudy and in some species even protrude.  If the fish still has its gills they should be red in colour not brown.

Fresh fish should look plump and firm and many flatfishes such as plaice, lemon sole, flounder etc will retain their natural sea slime that protects them.
Round fish generally have bigger scales and when very fresh the scales seem almost Iridescent.

Often the marking on certain fish can indicate quality, such as the orange spots on the dark skin side of Plaice. Bright markings usually indicate not only freshness but that the fish was healthy.
Whenever possible I try to buy my fish whole and ask the fishmonger to then fillet it. If the dish I’m preparing calls for whole fish then I will again ask the fishmonger to gut it for me. After all, why not have it done for you since there is no additional charge?
As a general rule of thumb, I very rarely buy seafood on a Monday because chances are that seafood is what is left over from the weekend, even if it has been delivered to the store that morning.  And for the same reason, I would never dream of eating seafood on a Monday at a restaurant unless I know the chef.     Of course, if you’re sitting at a quayside restaurant and the fish is being delivered off the boat on a Monday that obviously, the fish is fresh.

Huge Display Counters
One of the biggest problems of buying fresh seafood in a supermarket, the store designers make the fish counter too big (to look bountiful).  So then they feel the need to fill the counter every day, otherwise, it looks empty.  But a lot of people may not buy seafood until Tuesday or Wednesday. They should come up with some kind of flexible sized counter that can be adjusted depending on the demand that day.  It would certainly save the supermarkets a lot of money and also improve the quality. Another mindset that lowers the standards of supermarket seafood is standardisation.  Head office dictates the mix of seafood a store can sell making no accommodation for ethnic and regional likes and dislikes. Forcing the stores to try and sell fish that is just not wanted in that area. Supermarkets should listen to their seafood departments and the requests they make because they know the local likes and dislikes.

Storing Fish
Ideally, you should buy your seafood the day you intend to cook it, but when that is not possible here are a few tips. I empty out one of the crisper/salad boxes and when clean, I place several frozen cool blocks at the bottom then line the crisper box with tin foil.

I do this for 3 good reasons.
Storing it in this way will keep it cooler since domestic fridges are not as cold as a good fish fridge.  Being in the bottom of the fridge means the seafood cannot drip onto other food stuff.
When your family is opening and shutting the fridge the temperature rises, and it takes time to get back down to the correct temp.  So keeping your fish in the crisper box will affect the storage temperature a lot less and will, therefore, increase the shelf-life of your seafood.

Generally speaking, I try to buy my shellfish raw and frozen if I have a choice to ensure the freshness and thaw them out as and when required.  They may be shell off or still have their shells on, and you may choose to keep the shell on, but the main thing is to devein the shrimp. The blue or brown “vein” that is on the top of the shrimp (just under the shell) is actually the intestinal tract and should be removed before cooking.  If the shrimp are shell-less then you simply run a small sharp knife along the length of the shrimp just deep enough to get to the “vein”. Wash the vein out of the shrimp in cold water and then pat dry with paper towel and store in the fridge until you cook them.

The Blue mussel also known as the common mussel grow naturally and are also farmed in a large number of places including US, UK, France, Holland, Belgium. Often farming extends and blurs the nature season of these shellfish (September to April in the UK), never the less as a chef I rarely buy fresh mussels out of season as the size and quality are inferior.  If you buy a small net of mussels from your local supermarket make sure the shells are closed (which indicates the mussels are still alive).  Store your mussels in the fridge in a large plastic container without a lid, wrapping them loosely in damp newspaper can help keep them from drying out and protect them from cold draughts. You don’t want live mussels to get too cold and freeze as this will kill them. Don’t seal them in a plastic bag as they need air, and don’t submerge them in clean fresh water as this will also kill them.

How To Buy Top Quality Tuna
Blue fin Tuna is considered the best and is highly prized by Japanese cooks who use it for sashimi. When very fresh, Tuna is firm and quite red in appearance, one might say almost blood red. The older the Tuna the browner the fish becomes.

But like a lot of things in modern life things are no longer so straightforward.  In America Tuna can be treated with Carbon monoxide(CO) treatment or gas treatment, causes the tuna – or any red meat – to take and retain a bright watermelon red color, even long past when the product is edible. For consumer protection, Canada, the countries of Europe, Japan, and China have banned this process outright. It is still legal in the US. To help you I have created a compilation photo.  In the left picture you can see a good quality fresh tuna loin, in the middle picture you can how the tuna has oxidise and is now looking more brown than red.  Then in the third picture you can see tuna that has been gas treated and is unnaturally bright red.

Example Tuna

Useful links

Regardless of where you live I think you will find these two links help increase your knowledge about seafood. Both links are from a professional seafood company called M & J Seafood. The first link is to a series of videos that demonstrate how to fillet various kinds of fish. The second link is called the fish book page offering lots of information about the different types of fish we buy.

Update 2021: If you would like to learn the simplest way to fillet a fish then why not watch my video and subscribe to my channel.

Buying & Storing Seafood© Kevin Ashton 2004,updated 2015, 2017 and 2021


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