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Fish, Catch of the Day

Martha Stewart Living, June 2006

As fish becomes more readily available more quickly in more places, questions about the smartest choices arise. It's easy to become mystified by all the alarming stories -- that cod are almost gone, swordfish are full of mercury, and sea turtles still get caught in fishing nets. Is fish trawled or trolled, wild or farmed, from the Atlantic or Pacific? Which of those things are best? Meanwhile, the doctor reminds you to weave more omega-3s into your diet. How do you keep it all straight?

The good news is, you don't really have to, because there are lots of tools available to the conscientious consumer. Chances are, if you like fish and cook it often, you already know where to buy excellent seafood and may be lucky enough to have a fishmonger you trust. These days, specialty markets throughout the country usually have someone on staff who is knowledgeable enough to make suggestions.

At the fish counter, rely on help but also on important resources of your own: your eyes, your nose, and your fingertips. To determine if fish is fresh, first look to see if the flakes of flesh are separating from one another or falling apart, a sure sign of age. And if it's a whole fish, check the eyes, which should be bright and clear, not milky or sunken. Next, take a whiff -- even the faintest foul fishy odor is a bad sign. Finally, the fish should feel firm and spring back when gently pressed. If it is flaccid or mushy, it should be passed by.

To learn more about fish and your health, look up the online fact sheet by Oceans Alive (www.oceansalive.org). It includes lists of fish high in contaminants such as mercury and PCBs, plus warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is a good source if you are concerned about the health of the environment, too. Or visit the Seafood Watch website, managed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (www.mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp), where you'll be able to print a guide of fish to buy and to avoid. It's updated every six months and organized by region.

Black Cod in Tomato-Saffron Stew
Grilled Tuna with Mediterranean Chopped Salad
Fluke Seviche with Corn, Scallions, and Chiles
Fluke Seviche with Coconut