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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have been reading up on the expertise of buying fish. How to tell if it is fresh and determining if said fish has been handled properly. I found myself rather confused after a few chapters. What could I possibly be confused about? Well here are a few examples:

1. A fish should not smell fishy.

Now I have heard people say that a fish should smell like the ocean. I also read Bob Sullivan's article here on ChefTalk titled Buying Fresh Fish and he states, somewhere in the middle of the article I believe, that Halibut has a fresh oaky smell while Whitefish smells like cucumbers. So, on that note, I have no clue what a fish is supposed to smell like.

2. If a fish's eyes are cloudy don't buy it, with the exception of grouper.

Bob Sullivan's article mentions that fish that are caught from the deeper parts of the ocean (like the aforementioned grouper) sometimes have cloudier eyes. If that is not exactly what Mr. Sullivan meant I hope someone will clarify that statement for me. :) Now, if you are like me and know nothing about which part of the ocean the fish was caught, how are you supposed to know which fish has naturally cloudy eyes or not?

3. Then there is this list of questions that Mr. Sullivan mentioned at the end of the article.

How is the fish caught?
Is the fish stunned immediately upon entering the fish deck?
After the fish has boarded the boat how long does it take before it is bled and gutted?
How much ice per pound of fish did the boat carry?
What is the transport temperature to markets?

I thought fish (the ones you eat since I do know that some people use cyanide to catch aquarium fish) were caught by net on the fishing boats... :confused: There are other ways to catch fish? And what exactly does he mean by stunned? I am rather confused by the questions. I know there is a reason for asking them but cannot figure out exactly what that reason is. I can understand the reason for the last 3 questions only. What is the reason behind the first 2?

Does anyone have a few good tips to buying fish, what to look for and why?



I did find the article: A Guide to Buying Fish (for Chefs) by Mark Gorogianis quite an interesting read and would recommend it to those attending culinary school.

3,236 Posts
In The Elements of Taste they say fish should smell oceanic. Meaning it should be a plaisant smell.

From James Peterson's Fish & Shellfish:

When you walk into the fish store, give a sniff. A well kept store store should not smell like fish but should have a sealike smell.

Whole fish should not be covered by crushed ice.

Fillets and steaks should not be allowed to come directly in contact with ice but should be arranged on trays set on ice. In addition to the ice the fillets should be kept in a refrigerated case - left out they won't be chilled throughout.

The steaks should be all the same size and carefully arrange.

If possible buy whole fish and have the fishmonger prepare it. The quality of whole fish is easier to judge than that of fillets and steaks.

A fresh fish should be shiny and sparkling.

Most fresh fish should not hang limply - there are exceptions- but should stick out somewhat when held by the the head.

Fresh fish should be firm and the skin should be taut. Your finger should not leave an imprint. Avoid fish with wooly skin - wolffish is an exception.

Fresh fish should not have a fishy smell but should smell of the ocean or if a frshwater fish of clean pond.

The scales should adhere thightly. Loose scales indicate that the fish is not fresh or has not been store propely.

The gills of a fresh fish should be cherry red and should not have any white slime

The spperance of the eyes depends on the type of fish but in general look for clear protruding eyes. Some fish like the walleye never have clear eyes.

The tail of a fresh fish should not be dried out or curled at the end.

Look for red bruises, which may mean the fish was injured when it was caught. These are specially easy to spot on the white side of flatfish.

1,006 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Maybe I am suffering from information overload. I do have James Peterson's: Fish and Shellfish which I've read a few times. Amazing what you didn't notice the first time around. I also spent the first 9 years of my life living in Barbados where the fish was always fresh caught. I spent more time cleaning and preparing the fish than buying it. Plus, my grandma got the fish right off the boat.

What made me question my knowledge was the statement that a fish could smell like cucumbers. I thought there was something else to buying fish than what I already knew. I do know to look for:

Red Gills
Intact scales
Flesh that doesn't dent when you poke it
The pungent scent of decay (i believe this is what fishy means)
Portruding, clear eyes
And no bruises

All this thanks to James Peterson and the CIA. When I came across the different scents of fish, i.e. the cucumber scented whitefish, I assumed that maybe I was missing some vital information. :D

Thanks Isa.



Do you know the reason behind asking questions 1 and 2 from my previous post?
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