Selection criteria for the best fresh fish
The selection of the best fresh fish is something learned over time. However there are few indicative, yet useful rules for inexperienced consumers.
Our senses play a key role when we buy fish. The smell, look and texture determine its freshness.
First of all, the smell of the fish should be pleasant, vibrant, but also kind of neutral, like the smell of sea water. If the fish has a distinct intense smell -fishy-, then it is not fresh. This exact smell will also be present after the fish is cooked. We should always remember, though, that some fish have a natural intense smell, compared to others (e.g. the cod).
The look is also an important criterion when choosing the freshest fish. The eyes should be bright and clear. If the fish has dull, watery eyes, sunken into their sockets, it means that it’s not fresh.
The gills, on the other hand, should have a rich, deep red color and be wet. If their color turns brown or dark, then it’s better to choose another fish.
Finally, its shape and scales should not look altered. Its body should shine, be metallic and clean.
As far as its texture, we can understand if it’s fresh by pressing its flesh. If it’s tight, has elasticity and returns to its original shape, then the fish is fresh and was recently caught. Another characteristic of a fresh fish is the existence of mucus throughout its body.
A fresh fish can, finally, be cleaned easily, since we can gut it without breaking its innards.
Nonetheless, the real test is in the cooking and the delicious result. When we are cooking fresh fish, its bones should be white. Also, we should remember that when we fry or grill it, it gets arched, lifting its nose and tail. Moreover, the flesh doesn’t shrink and can be easily and totally separated from the bones. When flesh remains attached to the bone, the fish is not that fresh.
Unfortunately, raw fish is not necessarily fresh, because it might have spent many days out of the water before being sold. At the same time, its preservation conditions during transportation between the fisherman and the market might alter its taste and nutritional value and affect its final flavor. There are many techniques used by fishmongers that can mislead consumers about the freshness of the fish (eye clarity, bright red color of gills).
This means that the final flavor of our dish actually determines the quality and freshness of the fish we bought.