Purchasing and preparing fresh seafood can certainly be daunting. I can’t count the number of times people have told me they don’t eat (or at very least cook) fish because they don’t trust it. It can be an utterly awful experience to consume anything less than perfectly fresh seafood.
However, it’s a lot easier than you think.
First and foremost, you must trust your source. If you live on the coast and there’s a local fisherman who provides you the goods, then no worries! Most of us, however, don’t have that kind of access and we’re at the mercy of the store clerk. If you don’t think your local grocery store is providing you good, fresh fish, then you’re probably right. You must find a place that can get (and properly store) fresh product.
Once you’ve determined a trustworthy vendor, the next step is inspection. Ask to examine the fish up close. Smell it! I know that sounds extreme, but the best indicators of quality are the look and the smell. Fresh fish should smell of the ocean. NOT FISHY! That fishy smell comes from bacteria. If it already smells fishy, then it’s already old and will only smell worse once you cook it. Look at the eyes (if there are any). The eyes should be clear and bright. The gills should be bright red. Ask the fishmonger to poke the side. The flesh should bounce right back and not stay indented. And ask questions! The supplier should know where the fish was caught, how long it was at sea, and how long it’s been out of the water.
Last but not least, cook it quickly. I don’t mean a 2-minute fry, I mean don’t buy fish unless you intend to eat it soon. You can purchase perfect fish and three days later it’s garbage. This is a highly perishable product that needs to be eaten immediately. So if you’re planning on serving Salmon on Sunday night, buy it Saturday or Sunday – not Tuesday. I always use the “three day rule”: if it’s extremely perishable, then you have a three-day window. And that’s assuming it was perfect when you bought it and you’ve been keeping it under refrigeration the entire time.
From here it’s easy: cook it with respect. Make sure the beautiful animal you are about to consume didn’t die for nothing. Treat it well and you will be rewarded.