What to Look for When Buying Fresh Fish & Types of Fish
Once you have a top quality base product i.e. the freshest of fish, the rest is easy. There is nothing more exhilarating than a fresh fish, simply cooked.
Fish caught in the least damaging way possible using a hook and line, or tidal nets, and transported back to port for sale the same day, simply has a superior taste to anything you can find on the frozen food section. However due to seasonality and weather sometimes we have to resort to frozen. Fish that is properly processed, frozen immediately after catching, defrosted and prepared correctly, can be a useful substitute when fresh items are not available.
We are so fortunate to live in a coastal region, where there is a year round supply of fresh fish (weather permitting)
Here are some key things to look for when sourcing fresh fish:
- All fish should have a clean pleasant smell, with no hint of ammonia or any offensive odour. Fresh fish should just smell of the sea.
- When buying whole fish, the eyes should be bright and full, not sunken, cloudy or blotched with red.
- The fish should be plump with no signs of emaciation.
- Skin should be shiny and vivid. Colour's such as orange spots on plaice, the green and yellow flecks on cod and the turquoise green and blue lines on mackerel should be bright and appealing. Whole fish should have a slight slimy coating to the skin, with the scales moist and shiny.
- The gills should have a bright pink to red colour, be moist and full and with no signs of being shrunken or dry.
- If buying fish fillets, as most of us do, the fish should be firm and just moist, with no sign of stickiness. Obviously some fish is softer than others, but all fish goes slack and feels flabby as it becomes stale.
Don't be afraid to ask your fishmonger where the fish came from; is is landed locally, is it from Irish boats?
Farmed fish: Fish that is farmed has an advantage over wild, because the fish is kept alive until it is ordered, hence it is always fresh. Farmed fish have more omegas than fish raised in the wild due to the higher fat content.
Storing fish: The ideal temperature for storing fish is 1-2 degrees Celsius. As the domestic fridge is normally 3-5 degrees, you can cover your fish with a damp cloth or crushed ice to keep it in prime condition.
There are two classifications of fish which are easily identifiable: Round Fish and Flat Fish.
Round fish, are further broken down into two types, white fish or oily fish.
Examples of round white fish are Bass, Bream, Cod, Haddock, Hake, and Whiting.
Fish such as Herring, Mackerel, Red Mullet, Salmon, Trout, Sardines and Whitebait fall into the Round Oily Fish variety.
The Flat Fish Classification is also broken down into White Fish and Oily Fish varieties.
Flat white fish such as Brill, Dover Sole, Halibut, John Dory, Lemon Sole, Plaice, Turbot and Monkfish are all varieties which are readily available.
Skate / Ray Wing would be a classic example of a flat oily fish type.
Seasonality and supply are also factors which influence our choices when looking to buy the freshest fish. Although most fish is now available year round, certain types of fish are in abundance at different times of the year, for example cod can become less plentiful during the summer months from May until September. Fishing is also subject to the whims of Mother Nature, stormy and inclement weather can prevent boats from going out to fish or landing their catch, at times resulting in a scarcity of fresh fish.