After hearing over and over all the amazing health benefits of seafood, you’ve finally decided to get serious and start working some into your diet, but where do you start? There is literally an entire ocean of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans out there and the idea of buying and preparing it can be rather daunting.
For many there is a long-held belief that selecting your own seafood can be difficult with so many different options at the market, not to mention expensive. Plus, how do you know what variety of seafood to buy to match you and your family’s palettes? With a little research and a good fish market on your side, you’ll be diving into a whole new world of delicious seafood in no time!
Start at the start – what types of fish or shellfish have you tried in the past and make note of what you liked or disliked about each. Do you prefer something with a flaky, delicate texture or maybe a fish with a firmer bite to it? What about taste? Most people new to seafood do well with varieties that have a more mild taste, such as Tilapia or shrimp, as opposed to a full-flavor fish taste.
Finding a quality fish market can make selecting and buying much easier as most will help guide you on finding the most suitable selections as well as giving pointers on cooking methods for each. Learning about how different fish and shellfish are cooked can make shopping much less intimidating and actually make many more open to trying different varieties.
When buying fresh, unfrozen fish the smell is the first thing shoppers usually check. Quality, fresh fish should smell like seawater or an ocean breeze and never have a strong “fishy” odor which means it is past its prime. The skin should appear shiny and moist and any scales should lay closely to the skin and not look dry or “ruffled.” Any exposed flesh should look freshly cut without any drying out or discoloration and feel firm to the touch with no separation.
If you decide to buy frozen, the fish should be solidly frozen and have very little or no odor at all. Avoid buying any fish that has white, dry areas on it as it can have freezer burn, nor should there be any ice crystals inside the packaging which could indicate that it has been thawed and then refroze.
Keep fresh fish loosely wrapped and refrigerated on finely crushed ice if possible, or at least in the coldest area of the fridge, for up to two days. Thaw frozen fish in the refrigerator for 18-24 hours per pound or, if you’re in a hurry, place it under cold, running water. Never thaw fish at room temperature!
Clams, mussels, and oysters (if still in shell) must be alive when purchased. All mollusks will have their shells closed if they are still alive or if the shells are open give them a tap which should prompt them to tightly close their shells. Once you have them home, store them in an uncovered bowl or pot in the coldest area of the refrigerator (34-40 degrees Fahrenheit) and never leave them in a plastic bag as they will suffocate.
If you decide to buy already shucked oysters, look for them to be plump with a natural, creamy color and clear liquid. Freshly shucked oysters will keep for up to a week if kept packed on ice and refrigerated.
Like mollusks, crab and lobster will be sold alive and should show movement, with lobsters curling their tails when picked up. When buying cooked crab meat (either fresh or pasteurized) there should be little odor and can be kept in the fridge for up to two days, preferably on ice to maintain the best quality.
And last, only 2% of shrimp is actually sold fresh (typically within 50 miles of the coast), but if you purchase fresh look for a firm texture with little odor. Frozen shrimp comes in all sorts of varieties, from raw and in the shell to peeled and cooked. Thaw according to frozen fish instructions or following the steps listed on the package.
By following these recommendations and tips delving into the ever-expanding seafood market should be relatively easy and painless – with delicious results!