Guide to Choosing/Buying Fish
Buying seafood is often more challenging than cooking it! That's why more than two-thirds of all seafood is consumed in restaurants. The main reason people are hesitant to prepare seafood at home is because they are apprehensive about purchasing it. At The Fresh Market, we believe an informed shopper is a more comfortable shopper, so keep these factors in mind when shopping for fish and shellfish:
Fresh, unfrozen fish smells like seawater or cucumber. If it gives off a strong, objectionable odor, it's past its prime. Finfish should have firm, elastic flesh that is unmarred. Any exposed flesh should appear freshly cut without traces of browning or drying out. The skin should be moist with unfaded characteristic markings and the colors of that species. If the fish has scales, they should adhere closely to the skin and should not be dry or "ruffled" looking. Plan to use fresh fish within two days of purchase. Maximum quality in fresh fish is maintained if fish is loosely wrapped and packed in finely crushed ice to prevent moisture loss. If you are unable to use the fish within two days, go ahead and cook or freeze it. Cooked fish maintains quality in the refrigerator at 32-34 Fahrenheit for two to three days. (See information below about freezing fish.)
Frozen fish should be solidly frozen. Avoid fish with white, dehydrated areas — this is a sign of freezer burn. Examine the package for ice crystals that may form around the inside of the package or be concentrated in one area of the package. Both of these indicate a moisture loss from the fish flesh, and this is most likely the result of thawing and refreezing. The fish should be wrapped in a moisture-proof and vapor-proof material. Fish wrapped in plastic is generally better if the plastic is vacuum-packed rather than over-wrapped. High-quality frozen fish will have very little or no odor. Note: never thaw fish at room temperature, and never refreeze. Thaw frozen fish by placing in the refrigerator, allowing 18-24 hours per one-pound package to thaw. For a quicker thawing method, place fish under cold, running water.
Clams and Mussels
These mollusks should be alive when sold. It's easy to tell if they are alive because their shells will be closed. If the shells are gaping open, give them a quick tap: this will prompt live clams and mussels to tightly close their shells. They will also give off a sweet smell. Mollusks should be iced or refrigerated between 34-40 degrees Fahrenheit. At home, store them dry and uncovered in a pot or bowl in the refrigerator. Be sure they have room to breathe — never store them in a plastic bag where they will suffocate.
Fresh oysters are sold shucked or in the shell. Oysters must be alive if purchased in the shell, indicated by shells that close tightly when handled. Live oysters are sold by the dozen or by the bag containing approximately one bushel. Live oysters will remain alive from seven to 10 days if stored without ice in the refrigerator at 35-40 Fahrenheit. Shucked oysters are graded and sold according to size, usually in pints or gallons. Fresh shucked oysters are plump and have a natural creamy color and clear liquid. If properly handled and packed in ice in the refrigerator, freshly shucked oysters will maintain quality for about a week. We don’t recommend that you freeze oysters at home, simply because they freeze too slowly in a home freezer to produce a satisfactory product.
Only two percent of shrimp is sold fresh, and most is sold within 50 miles of the coast. The Fresh Market goes to great lengths to make fresh shrimp available to our customers. Fresh shrimp maintain a firm texture and mild odor. Remember that raw, headless shrimp in the shell maintain quality during freezing longer than frozen, cooked shrimp and are best if frozen at the peak of freshness.
Live lobsters should be active and should curl their tails under when picked up. Frozen lobster should be completely frozen. Thaw them according to frozen fish instructions.
Fresh hard-shelled crabs are sold either alive, or as cooked meat (fresh or pasteurized). If you purchase live crabs, make sure they show movement. Fresh soft-shell crabs should have a moist appearance and be free of odor. When purchasing frozen soft-shell blue crabs, make sure they are solidly frozen.
Fresh or pasteurized crabmeat has a very mild odor and should be used within one to two days of purchase. It will maintain quality better if packed in ice in the refrigerator. Pasteurized crabmeat must be kept under refrigeration, just like fresh crabmeat.