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What You Need to Know When You're Buying Fish

Our seafood expert explains.

selecting fish

If you're unsure about how to choose the freshest, most sustainable choices whether you're buying fish fillets or whole fish, and if you want to know what fishes will suit your family's tastes, read on as our friendly fishmonger demystifies buying fish.

 

What are the basic things to look for?

Finding a fishmonger that focuses on domestically caught, sustainable seafood is the best way to make buying fish less daunting. A good fishmonger can help guide you by asking you questions such as: do you like meaty or flaky texture? Lean or oily fish? Thick or thin fillets? Do you have a specific recipe in mind? Since a lot of recipes call for fishes that may not be local, sustainable, or in season, a knowledgeable fishmonger can help you find a suitable replacement from their selection.

 

Your fishmonger should be able to tell you where their wild fish was caught and what catch method was used. Some (but not all) farmed fishes are great choices as well; look for fish raised in recirculating aquaculture systems.

 

• When buying whole fish: Look for clear eyes, red gills, and shimmering skin.

 

• When buying fillets: Look for translucent flesh with no odor.

Skip shrink-wrapped fillets on foam trays; buy something fresh from the fish case. 

Alternatively, flash-frozen fillets are a high-quality, economical option, especially for fish with limited seasons (like wild Pacific salmon.)

 

See Our Guide to Storing Fish
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Photography by: John Kernick

What types of fishes have milder flavors?

Sometimes people say they don't like fish that tastes "fishy," and I tell them that really fresh fish shouldn't be "fishy." That said, generally speaking, the higher the fat content of a fish, the bigger its flavor profile will be. Some mild and flaky options are fishes such as hake, pollock, haddock, and flounder. For fishes that are mild and meaty, try striped bass, grouper, snapper, or tilefish. Some bolder flavored, oilier options are mackerel, bluefish, and sardines. Finally, there are meaty, steaky fishes such as tuna, swordfish, and opah. Some of these fishes are available all year while others have seasons or are restricted based on local fishing regulations. While we always lean towards choosing locally caught seafood, there are some seasonal treats we think are worth the fuel to transport them. These include wild salmon and halibut from Alaska, stone crabs from Florida, and sea urchin from California. 

 

Get Our Healthy Salmon Recipes