The Rules for Buying Fresh Seafood That You Were Afraid to Ask
How can you tell if your fish isn’t old-as-hell? Here's some of my rules for finding that all-natural shit that will help you land the good stuff.
Illustration by Adam Waito
Seafood is one of the most heavily regulated commodities in the world, and over 11 million individuals rely on the seafood industry as their main source of income worldwide. Over 91 percent of the seafood we consume in the US is imported from abroad, and less than 2 percent of this fish is inspected by the FDA. And like many of the imported commodities still being sold in the USA today, our seafood's origins can be seedy and hard to trace. This makes it challenging for a responsible consumer to properly select fresh, natural, and sustainable seafood. There's slave labor conditions in Indian fish farms, child workers adding chemicals to shrimp in Vietnam, and Mediterranean pirates who are catching out-of-season tuna. These are just a few of the horrifying yet accepted practices that have been going on since Moby Dick was a minnow.
Many old fishmonger operations have long been sitting on these—and many other—dark, dirty secrets. Mystery has been an integral part of the seafood industry and its profitability. However, some of today's mongers, myself included, hail from a different mentality: We believe that consumers deserve transparency and the truth to empower their fish buying choices. Here are some of my personal tips on selecting seafood that is not horrible for the environment, the people who work in it, and your health in this crazy day and age.
Make Sure It's Actually Fresh How can you tell if your fish isn't old-as-hell? Start by looking at any bloodline or any blood marks on the piece of seafood. Blood should be bright red—not brown—when it's fresh product. The eyes on a whole fish should be clear and not foggy. Look for a shiny, bright sheen when it comes to color on the fillets and whole fish. Seafood shouldn't ever smell like anything except the sweet smell of the ocean. When purchasing shellfish, make sure they are closed up tightly and don't smell. Watch out for fish fillets that seem to be breaking apart, because when you've discovered that, it's because the cell walls in the fish are literally "breaking down," especially in any oily specimen like bluefish or salmon.
Find the Good All-Natural Shit Chemical additives are rampant these days. Watch out for chemically-treated fish fillets, scallops, calamari, and shrimp. How can you tell that it is chemically treated? Ask your fishmonger for the all-natural products.
Frozen Seafood Is Not Inherently "Bad" Most of the best fisheries in the United states are of the frozen-at-sea variety. Salmon; squid; herring; cod; pollock; many fisheries use this technique—and in my opinion—it is one of the best ways to fish and preserve seafood. There is minimal waste because the fish are preserved frozen at the moment they're caught. There is nothing fresher. It is much easier for the fish to arrive at the store in a frozen state without compromising quality or freshness. Watch out for sodium triply phosphate, a.k.a. "tri-poly chemical treatments" on frozen domestic fish. You can tell the difference between an all-natural frozen piece and a chemically treated one by the color and transparency of the flesh. Frozen natural fish will look almost opaque. The treated specimens will appear translucent.
Buy Domestic and Seasonal Stuff Do some of your own research and go to fishwatch.gov, the government website containing loads of information on every domestically caught species. Ask your local fishmonger what is being pulled out of the nearest ocean at any given time of year. Being an educated and informed fish consumer will get you closer to the best, freshest, most sustainable product.
Go Catch Your Own You have at least seven or eight months a year of excellent charter fishing in just about every coastal or lake state in the US. Take a trip. They will usually fillet your fish on board the vessel. What is fresher than that?
Good Seafood Is Not Cheap and Cheap Seafood Is Not Good Here's a simple concept: You get what you pay for.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in June 2016.