The fish market smells fishy. Is that a bad sign?
While the fish should smell like the sea or nothing at all, the fishy smell in the market is not necessarily an indication or spoiled fish. If you are in an ethnic fish market that carries salt cod, you’ll know as soon as you walk in due to strong fishy smell. It is a Mediterranean specialty and very delicious in spite of the smell, so don’t be grossed-out. In spite of modest appearance, the fish markets where the owners are from fish eating countries (Italy, Portugal, Spain, China, Japan, etc) are often the best places to buy fish.
Other reasons you might encounter a fishy smell are the skin and bones left over from filleting fish. Since the fish stays best whole, the markets that fillet their own fish are usually offering you a better product even though the market might smell fishy. Since supermarket chains get their fish already filleted and rarely carry salt cod, you have to be very suspicious if a supermarket fish counter smells.
What about Fresh vs. Frozen fish?
Lately, everyone seems to have an opinion on what kind of fish you shouldn’t buy. Ideally, all fish would be fresh and wild, but we all know that’s not the reality. Here is my opinion on this subject and you should take it as just that – another opinion.
Fatty fin fish (salmon, bluefish, trout, Chilean sea bass) freeze well and lose very little moisture during defrosting. Lean fish (cod, flounder, halibut, red snapper) lose a lot of moisture during defrosting and their texture suffers tremendously. The amount of time fish spends in the freezer makes a huge difference. Most of the fish sold frozen have been in the freezer way too long, so those affordable Trader Joe's fish packages are usually quite awful. Remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch, particularly with fish. I do sometimes freeze fatty fish at home for a couple of weeks to simplify my shopping. But keep in mind that you can't freeze fish twice and you have to defrost it in the fridge for 24 hours (48 hours for fillets thicker than 1 inch).
Here is more info on fresh vs. frozen fish.
What about Farm-Raised vs. Wild fish?
This one is even more touchy than fresh vs. frozen. Due to bad environmental reputation of farm-raised fish, consumers suddenly decided that it tastes bad. That is absolutely not true; Atlantic salmon, Mediterranean bass, arctic char, white trout, and tilapia are all farm-raised and delicious.
The fish market is required to tell you whether the fish was previously frozen or farm-raised, so read the fine print on the labels carefully.
Since information about environmental concerns and endangered species changes faster than I type, consult the following sources for up to date information:
Monterey Bay Aquarium www.mbayaq.org
Blue Ocean Institute www2.blueocean.org
Is prepackaged fish any good?
Prepackaged fish can be perfectly fresh, but there are several drawbacks to buying it already prepackaged.
- You can’t ask for exact amount of fish that you need.
- You don’t know how long the fish was sitting in that package and how long you can keep it at home.
- Some prepackaged fish have been treated with chemicals to slow down decomposition. This does not happen at organic supermarkets, but you never know about regular ones.
- More often than not, there is no friendly fishmonger to ask questions about fish personalities, substitutions, or appropriate cooking methods. It’s just you and that styrofoam container.
How much fish should I buy?
How much fish to buy depends a lot on your appetite. A standard serving of fish is 6oz of boneless flesh. 8oz usually satisfies even the heartiest eaters. Here is a guideline on getting 6-8oz of flesh from different cuts of fish:
- For boneless fillets and steaks, buy 6-8 oz of fish per person.
- For on the bone steaks, buy 8-10 oz of fish per person.
- For whole fish, buy 12-16 oz of fish per person.