Choosing fish is a serious matter, because if you make the wrong choice, you can be poisoned by low-quality seafood or get infected with parasites. Retail chains offer a huge variety of fish products: chilled and frozen, dried and smoked, whole and packaged. With all this variety, it is difficult to find a really good product. In this article, we will talk in detail about how to choose fish and seafood and how to recognize the “signals” of a bad product.
Fish from the sea and rivers comes to store shelves fresh (chilled) or frozen. Let’s start with the former.
How to choose fresh fish
First, look into the fish’s eyes. If they are cloudy, sunken in, or peeling off, the product has gone bad. A freshly caught fish has shiny eyes.
Then look at the gills. They should be pink and close to the carcass. If the gills are gray, brown, or green, the fish is already bad.
This is why it is not recommended to buy fish without heads and fins. Often, they are cut off to hide the spoilage of the product. It is better to pay for “extra” weight, but be sure of its freshness.
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Look closely at the color: it must match the natural color of fish. For example, the mackerel has a blue-green back with lots of black stripes and a silver belly. If there are spots or “rusty” patches on the carcasses, the fish is not the first-fresh fish.
After a visual evaluation, touch the fish. The carcass should be firm, with scales that fit tightly together. Flabby meat and flaking scales are a sign of spoilage.
Press on the back of the fish. If it leaves a dent, it is better to refuse to buy it. You can check the freshness of chilled fillets in the same way.
Finally, smell the fish. The smell should be mild and natural. If the fish smells like swamp or reeks of ammonia, it is spoiled. Do not buy such a product under any circumstances.
How to choose frozen fish
Fish, especially saltwater fish, are frozen either on fishing boats or in processing plants on shore. If the points of sale of the catch are far away, the fish is covered with an ice glaze.
The glaze is a frozen marinade (often with added preservatives) that forms an icy crust and increases the shelf life of the fish.
Start with a visual inspection, too. The glaze should be even, uniform, about 2 millimeters thick. If the ice crust on the carcass is cracked or you can see blood underneath, the fish has not been stored properly and clearly overfrozen.
This can also be seen from the unnatural “posture” of the fish. Do not buy fish that are bent, have a broken tail or broken fins.
Smell the fish. “Does frozen, much less glazed fish smell anything?” – you ask, and you would be right. If the fish was caught and immediately frozen, it has almost no smell. If the frozen carcasses exude a strong fish aroma, they went bad before they were frozen.
And the last check: take the fish in your hands. The weight of frozen fish should be about the same as fresh fish. If the carcass is too light, it has been refrozen many times. Even if the product is not spoiled, the taste of such fish leaves much to be desired.
How to Choose Seafood
Seafood is everything that is caught in the sea and is not fish. All seafood is low in calories and very healthy: rich in protein, amino acids, and iodine.
Seafood is divided into shellfish (squid, oysters, mussels, octopus and others) and crustaceans (shrimp, crayfish, crabs, lobsters and so on).
Regardless of species, almost all seafood reaches our shelves in frozen or canned form. You just can’t get them fresh (well, or it’s very expensive). After all, shrimp are most often exported from Southeast Asia, oysters – from the Mediterranean coast, and crabs and squid – from the Far East.
These are delicacies that need to be caught at sea, preserved and brought back to the “mainland. They cannot be cheap.
Price is the first point of reference when choosing high-quality seafood. The second – the smell. Even a slight smell of ammonia should alert you. The seafood must smell like the sea or have no odor at all.
Walk through the fish department of the supermarket. Is it cold enough there? If not, it’s possible that the refrigerators in the store are weak or have been turned off recently. Any breach of storage conditions affects the quality of the product.
Carefully inspect the packaging of frozen seafood. It should be in one piece. Frosting inside is a sign of defrosting and refreezing. If the inhabitants of the seas are covered with glaze, it should be no more than 7-10% of the total volume of the product.
Now let’s consider the peculiarities of choosing the most popular seafood.
Shrimp are usually sold boiled-frozen (they are soft pink) or fresh-frozen (they are gray), cleaned or in shells, in packages or by weight.
There are many varieties of shrimp, from small “beer shrimp” to large “king prawns”. That is why they are calibrated by size and given numbers on packages: 50-70, 90-120 and so on.
These numbers tell you approximately how much shrimp there is in one kilogram.
Pay attention to the appearance of the shrimp. Unpeeled ones should have tails that curl into a ring. Shrimp straight as a roach is a sign that the product has been repeatedly over-frozen or has been frozen stale. Stains and unnatural hues are also a sign of poor quality raw material.
There are many kinds of crabs too. The size and color of meat of these crustaceans depend on the species: from snow-white to almost brown.
In stores they sell live and cooked crabs (usually whole), as well as chilled and frozen (often in cut form: meat, claws and legs).
When buying live crabs, look to see how active they are. If they’re sitting in the tank and barely moving, it’s best not to buy them. The eyes of live crabs, like those of fish, should be black and shiny.
If you buy cooked crabs there should be a pleasant slightly sweet aroma coming from them. But no fishy aroma!
The shell of both live and cooked or frozen crab should be firm, without spots and damages.
In our stores they usually sell calamari already gutted (without beak, eyes and insides) but not yet cleaned. The color of the carcass depends on the habitat and age of the shellfish: from grayish-pink to purplish-purple.
When buying pay attention to the size of the squid. The most tender meat is in carcasses weighing about 300 grams and about 15 centimeters long.
Look at when the squid was caught and packaged. Fishing for these shellfish occurs in July and August. If the package has summer dates on it, this is a good sign.
When buying cleaned squid, examine the carcasses for cuts and blemishes. The meat of a cleaned squid should be smooth and white.
Mussels can be sold canned or frozen, with or without shells.
When buying should be guided by two important indicators.
The appearance of the shells. They should be solid, without cracks and chips, and their shells should be tightly closed. It is good if the shells are moist.
Size. Medium-sized mussels are ideal. This means that the mollusk has reached its most delicious – a year and a half – age. They are about 40-60 pieces in a kilogram.
The criteria for selecting oysters are about the same as for mussels. But there is an important nuance.
Oysters are eaten alive.
Therefore, in stores, they must be kept in a special tank or in ice. When you bring them home, they should also be immediately placed in cold water.
And one more little trick. After opening the oyster with a special knife, pour lemon juice on it. The meat should shrink. If it does not shrink, the clam is dead and it is better not to eat such an oyster.