“Fresh” fish is not always better than frozen

seafood display

A photo: ImagenerInk (Shutterstock)

There is something irresistible about a beautiful display of fresh seafood in a grocery store. This colorful fish is calling you to take some home. The alternative is a frozen cabinet with all the hard fish fillet boards that never seem so inviting. It probably seems like buying seafood on display is the best idea since it’s fresh, right? Well, not so fast. There are a few things you need to take into account when buying fish from a supermarket.

Is fresh fish really “fresh”?

“Fresh” fish on display is almost always freshly thawed from frozen. In fact, some of you have emailed me about this fact after I wrote about grocery shopping tips another day. (Thanks to everyone, by the way.)

This means that the fish on the ice on display could have been sitting there for a lot longer than you think, but you can’t know for sure. And the longer it sat, the more its quality deteriorated – its texture and taste continued to suffer the longer it was in the ice. It is also an open breeding ground for bacteria because it is exposed to air, which is obviously not good. I’m not saying to avoid it, it’s just that you have to follow some key rules when choosing.

What should you look for in a fresh whole fish or fillet?

First of all, look for a piece of fish, hard and shiny. The dull-looking piece has most likely been thawed (but it is quite possible to eat). Any discoloration around the edges is not good, so don’t buy these products.

The smell test is your friend. If the fish smells strongly or smells like ammonia, skip it. Many guides advise you to avoid fish that smell like fish, but the fact is that all fish have a smell. However, when the fish smells particularly strong, you will want to toss it.

Whole fish is tasty and makes a great center dish. If you receive a whole check your eyes to make sure they are glassy and clear. An old whole fish will have milky or cloudy eyes that you can see from a mile away.

Frozen seafood can be even better than fresh

So that begs the question, is frozen seafood worse? Short answer is a resounding no. Much of it is instantly frozen shortly after being caught, sometimes even on the very boat it was harvested on, greatly highlighting its freshness. Government website FishWatch says that 70-85% of seafood in the United States is imported, and if it comes from afar, you usually want it must be frozen for transport.

Then there is the added benefit of storage stability. If properly vacuum-packed, it should last for months, if not a year, in the freezer. And while it may seem counterintuitive, you can actually cook fish straight from frozen. This guidance from devourer says that it is even easier to cook fish in an ice state than fresh, because so it’s harder to digest.

What should I pay attention to in frozen fish?

Buying frozen fish is quite simple. There are a few things you’ll want to find in a package of frozen fish, but it’s all pretty common sense.

  • Look for ice particles inside the bag. If there are large crystals, there is a chance that it has partially (or completely) thawed and has been re-frozen. Don’t buy this package.
  • Make sure the packaging is not damaged. It’s easy, just make sure nothing is open in it, including the plastic itself.
  • And, of course, make sure it’s actually frozen; Properly stored frozen fish is rock hard with no obvious soft spots that have thawed at all.

Almost all the seafood I buy is frozen, either for convenience or simply because it looks so much better than the produce on display. As for things behind glass, I just leave the cute fish in there for display purposes or as inspiration for what I’ll be eating for dinner later.


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