Silvia's Kitchen
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Golden Rules When Buying Fish

One of the things I often get asked when teaching, is how to choose and buy fish. So today I'll give you tips on how to choose fresh fish, whole or fillets, and give you a few tips on how to store it.

Fish represents the planet’s largest stock of ‘wild’ food and it’s an important source of protein. Particularly saltwater fish is high in Omega 3 fatty acids, which are heart-friendly, and is highly recommended for a healthy diet.

This may be obvious, but worth restating – in order to be kosher, fish must have fins and scales. You should also preferably buy fish from a reliable kosher fishmonger so you are sure that the fish is not ‘contaminated’ with non-kosher fish and seafood, and that the utensils used to clean the fish are used solely for kosher fish. If you don’t have a kosher fishmonger in your area, if you are travelling or are unsure if a specific fish is kosher, then a useful list of kosher and non-kosher fish can be found here

How to tell if a fish is fresh….

1. First of all, I suggest to always buy a whole fish when possible, unless you are dealing with particularly large fish such, as salmon or tuna, and you only want a fillet or two. A whole fish tells a whole story and that’s really what you want to unveil. So, for example, if you are buying a lovely sea bass or sea bream and you intend to use only the fillets, I would recommend buying the whole fish and asking the fishmonger to fillet it for you. It takes a few extra minutes but you are sure you chose the freshest fish, and the extra bonus is that you can also keep the head and bones to make a lovely fish stock or soup!

2. The quickest and easiest way to check if a fish is fresh is to check its eyes. They should be black, clear, shiny and almost bulging. If they are blurry, faded to almost white and sink a little it means that the fish, although it may still be safe to eat, has passed its prime, so choose another fresher bright-eyed fish instead.

3. Ask the fishmonger to show you the gills, which are just under the cheeks. They should be bright, red/pink in colour and free from slime that may store bacteria. If the gills are brown or grey then the fish is no longer fresh.

4. It should look fresh, meaning a tight, firm and shiny skin and not look dry or discoloured.

5. It should smell fresh. Fish should not smell ‘fishy’ but clean, ideally of clear seawater. The more a fish smells, the older it is. The best way to judge a good fishmonger is by its smell. It should not smell of fish at all, or just a tiny bit when the doors are shut. If the shop smells fresh, then the chances are that all of its fish is fresh.

6. If you would rather buy fish fillets that are already cleaned and prepared, then check the colour of the skin, which should be shiny metallic. The flesh should be firm and without discoloration. I suggest keeping the skin on the fish to help keep it intact during cooking (as is the case with cod for example) plus it also keeps the flesh moist. It is always easy to remove the skin once cooked.

7. If you are in doubt if a fish is fresh enough, then buy it frozen! Nowadays, fish (and vegetables) are frozen at their freshest stage with latest fast technologies, making frozen fish sometimes fresher and safer to eat than ‘fresh’ fish.

Now that you have bought your fish, make sure to put it in the fridge/freezer as soon as you get home and to keep it cool until you are ready to cook it. Every hour a fish is kept outside the fridge it loses a day of its shelf life! And try to cook it as soon as possible, ideally on the same day, or within the next couple of days if particularly fresh.

Always rinse the fish – whole or fillets – in cold fresh water before preparing and cooking it.

And now you are ready to cook it! Grilling, poaching, steaming, pan-frying, deep frying, stewing and braising… so many wonderful ways to cook fish. Next time I’ll tell you more about the different kinds of fish and give you a recipe or two, so watch this space!