When buying fish it is important always to select the freshest available.
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TIP 1: A clean, fresh smell, more of the sea and seaweed than of fish: a really ‘fishy’ odour indicates something caught none too recently and best avoided.
TIP 2: Whole fish should have bright, clear eyes, showing no cloudiness and not sunk into the head. Gills should be pink or bright red.
TIP 3: Scales should be complete and look shiny. Don’t be put off by the natural slime on some fish, as it washes off easily.
TIP 4: The fish should feel firm and resilient, not flabby; it should not feel soft or soggy under your fingertip.
TIP 5: Ready-cut fillets and steaks should have moist, bright flesh which does not look watery. White fish should look really white. Always try to buy pre-cut fillets and steaks which you know to have been prepared on the spot and as recently as possible. Exposed fish flesh is more vulnerable to bacteria than whole fish.
It is a good thing to buy whole fresh fish whenever possible. Not only is it easier to judge the quality of the fish, but, in the case of white fish, you will also have trimmings for stock.
Storing Fresh Fish
TIP 1: Ideally, fresh fish should be cooked and eaten the day you buy it so that you can take full advantage of its wonderful flavour. This is not always possible, however, and whole fish can be safely stored in the refrigerator for a day or two before use, provided it was really fresh when you bought it. Steaks and fillets should be used within 24 hours of purchase.
TIP 2: Whole fresh fish are best stored gutted, because gutting removes enzymes in the stomach which cause the fish to begin decaying. The fish should then be wrapped in polythene and, if possible, have ice packed over it. Cut fish should be kept out of direct contact with ice in the refrigerator, as the ice can discolour the flesh and draw out moisture and juices.
Buying Other Kinds of Fish
TIP 1: Where fresh fish is seasonal, frozen, canned or smoked fish are available all year round and make excellent freezer or storecupboard items.
TIP 2: Only high quality fish is frozen, generally as soon as it is caught, so that its freshness is preserved. It is usually also prepared for. cooking before being frozen, being gutted and often filleted, too, making it very convenient to handle and use.
TIP 3: Frozen white fish can be safely stored in a domestic freezer for up to four months. Oily fish, because of its high fat content, is best used within three months. Shellfish, especially the several kinds of prawn available in supermarket frozen food compartments, is best used within two months of freezing.
TIP 4: Watch out for fish marked ‘previously frozen’ on fresh fish counters. This fish, often kinds imported from far beyond our shores, is fine to use in the same ways as fresh fish but should not be re-frozen.
TIP 5: Note, too, that fresh fish is not easy to freeze at home, because domestic freezers work more slowly than commercial ones, giving time for ice crystals, which damage texture and flavour, to form. Whole fish for home freezing should be gutted, cleaned and washed throughly then wrapped in freezer food wrap. The freezer should be set at its lowest temperature.
TIP 6: Canned fish, such as tuna, sardines, anchovies, pilchards and herrings, keep for much longer than frozen fish and make excellent store-cupboard items.
TIP 7: Smoking is a way of preserving fish that gives it a characteristically smoky and delicious flavour. While kippers and smoked haddock have long been British favourites, smoked salmon, mackerel and trout are all increasingly available and sought after.