How to Buy Fresh Sea Food

There are many choices when buying seafood, fresh vs. frozen, whole fish vs. filet, different types of shellfish etc.

The best thing you can do to make sure you are getting the best quality seafood is to buy from a reputable source.  If you live near the coast, finding one shouldn’t be very hard.  If you live inland, you might have to do a little searching.  A good seafood source should have quality seafood sold by knowledgeable people.  If your fishmonger doesn’t know the difference between farm raised and wild salmon (I’ll get to that later), how can you expect them to give you good advice on what to buy?  A good fishmonger will not only tell you what is fresh and delicious but will also give you cooking tips and advice if you are unfamiliar with the food.

Tips for Buying Whole Fish, Seattle Fish Market

Look for Bright, Clear Eyes

The eyes are usually the first thing on a fish that starts to go bad.  A really fresh fish will have bright eyes that are almost protruding out.  If the colour has started to fade, the fish may still be safe to eat, so long as it meets all of the other criteria below.   If the eyes have sunken in, look elsewhere.

Look at the skin

Fresh seafood will have an almost metallic sheen to it.  It should look bright and clean.  If the fish is grey and dull chances are it is past its prime.

Smell it

Fresh seafood should smell like the ocean.  Your fish should NOT smell fishy (with the exception of mackerel, sardines, and other oily fish, they all smell fishy to me).  Under no circumstances should you buy a fish that smells bad.  If it smells bad, it will taste bad when you cook it.

Touch It

If you poke the fish, the skin should be firm and bounce back.  If your finger leaves an imprint, or the skin is squishy, it is a sure sign the fish is not fresh.If the skin is slimy, it’s a sure sign the “catch of the day” wasn’t caught today (probably not even this week).

Look at the Gills

Obviously, the gills are how a fish breathes underwater.  Because of the high levels of oxygen, underneath the gills will be a beautiful bright red colour, which will diminish and begin turning brownish over time.  Taking a peek behind the gills will give you a good clue how long it has been since the fish was plucked from the water.

Look in the Cavity

Whole fish should have a slit in the bottom of the fish, with their guts removed.   Fresh fish usually have their innards removed either on the boat ( and saved for chum) or immediately once coming on to the dock.  The innards will spoil the fish very fast, and fish guts are not a pretty sight.  The cavity should be washed and clean, and not smell fishy.

Tips for buying Filet Fish


As with the whole fish, if a fish filet smells fishy, then something is fishy, and it sure isn’t fresh.

Look at it

Fresh filets should have vibrant skin.  The skin will dull over time, and if the filet still has it’s skin, it should be bright and metallic, not dull looking.  The flesh should not look dry and should not be slimy.  If there is liquid on the fish, it should be clear and not milky.  Milky fluid is a sign of a fish past it’s prime.

Touch It

Again, your finger should not leave a fingerprint in the fish.  If the fish doesn’t spring back to life, it is not fresh.

Buying Shellfish and Crustaceans

Tips for buying Shrimp

I almost always buy my shrimp frozen.  Shrimp go bad very quickly, and unless you live near shrimping boats, you should buy yours frozen too.  I like to buy all of my shrimp with their shells still on.  The main reason for this is I like to make stock with my shells, but the shells also protect the flesh from the freezing process and help maintain the texture.  Shell on shrimp is always cheaper than peeled d shrimp, as less work is done by the packer


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