How to identify quality fish

Be selective and trust your senses

May 26, 2016
How to identify quality fish | Cook With ❤

Like any seafood, fish is highly perishable, so before you buy it it's important to check the quality and freshness. The quality of the fish can be affected by several different factors, so here are some of the things you should pay attention to when buying fish.

  • how the fish was harvested,
  • how the fish was transported,
  • how the fish was handled.
  • You can find more details on what affects fish quality here.

All of these factors play a tremendous role in the quality of the fish, so it's best if you can find a trustworthy fishmonger in your area who's known for selling fresh seafood.

You don't have to depend on someone else's opinion, however, because you can check the fish quality and determine the freshness yourself. Learn to trust your senses! Your nose, eyes and fingers (when possible) can tell you if a fish is fresh or not.

If you want to purchase a whole fish, use this checklist to feel more confident when determining fish freshness and quality:

  • Smell - fresh fish smells faintly of the sea. If the fish smells like ammonia or “fishy” it’s a clear sign that it's not fresh and should be avoided.
  • Visual:
    • The scales should be firmly attached to the skin.
    • The skin itself should be bright and shiny.
    • The flesh should be smooth, it should look and feel slippery (a jelly-like substance on fish is what allows fish to swim through water with less friction). As fish decompose, the protective coating wears off or turns a yellow or brown color.
  • Touch (if possible):
    • Push the flesh - it should spring back. Keep in mind that as flesh ages, it becomes mushier.
    • Lift the gills off the back of the head - they should be pink or bright red in color. If the gills are brown or grey, it’s a clear sign that the fish is not fresh.
    • Look at the eyes - they should be clear, vibrant and almost mirror-like. If the eyes are droopy or cloudy, it’s a clear indicator of the aging process.
    • Note: The organs should be removed as soon as possible, because they speed up the aging process.

If you purchase pieces or fillets of the fish, it is harder to determine how fresh it is, as the head and sometimes the skin are removed. Also, pieces or fillets are more exposed to bacteria, so fish deteriorates more quickly. Again, trust your senses:

  • Smell - fresh fish smells faintly of the sea.
  • Look - flesh should be glossy and bright in color. If you notice any browning around the edges it’s a sign of older fish, also as flesh dries out it becomes duller.
  • Touch - flesh should spring back. Mushy flesh is a sign of aging.
  • Don’t forget to check the “best before” and “packed on” dates.

Don't be afraid to be picky - ask for particular cuts or sizes!

For the best result, fish should be processed, packaged, cooked and eaten on the same day.