Fish- buying guidelines


Fish is best eaten as close as possible to being caught which is why you can’t match the taste of fish cooked within hours of being landed, even if it is simply grilled on a beach barbecue. Those of us not lucky enough to live near the Mediterranean where fresh fish is easily available, have to rely on fishmongers or supermarkets. Fish is highly perishable and the quality  determined by its freshness, so here are some general pointers to ensure that you are buying the best possible quality next time you’re shopping.


Five point checklist.

Whole fish

  1. eyes-are they clear, sparkly, slightly bulgy?
  2. skin-is it shiny and slippery?
  3. gills-are they bright red?
  4. flesh-does it feel firm and tight under the skin? (Really fresh whole fish will sometimes have its tail turned upwards and feel stiff.
  5. smell-is it barely perceptible?

If the answer is yes to all the above your fish should be good quality. Watch out for a trick of the trade though as less reputable fishmongers will plunge fish into ice-cold water to make the eyes brighter. So use all the other pointers to help you judge what you’re buying!

Fish fillets

  1. flesh-is it discoloured, yellow, dry around edges?
  2. flesh-does it look soft and your finger sink in easily?
  3. smell-does it have strong “fishy” smell?

If the answer is yes to any or all the above do not buy it, as it is well past its best by date! Remember really fresh fish does not smell strongly so don’t buy any that do.


  1. Clams, mussels, oysters and other shellfish-do they close their shells if you tap them?
  2. Crabs and lobsters are they moving?

If the answer is yes, then you can buy with confidence. Shellfish deteriorate quickly so should be live when bought. Also reject any that have cracked or broken shells before cooking.

And on a last note: The best way of ensuring the quality of your fish is by finding a good fish monger who can recommend the “catch of the day” or what’s good value for money that week. He will also give advice on how best to cook your fish.  I have found that good fishmongers are passionate about what they do and will happily share their knowledge and expertise. Unfortunately a recent UK study revealed that whereas butcher numbers increased to 7,084 in 2010, fishmongers decreased to a mere 897, down by about 11 per cent on the previous year.  This is worrying as the quality of supermarket fish does not compare to buying it freshly delivered from the ports where the fishing boats land their daily haul.

Did you know that fish are graded and that supermarkets tend to buy the lower quality fish?  We’re all worrying about cod and haddock dying out, but shouldn’t we be supporting our local friendly and knowledgeable fishmongers before they too become extinct?

What do you think? It would be interesting to hear your views or experiences.

© (Suzette McDaniel Don’t Burn The Onions) Unauthorized use and /or duplication of this material without express written consent from this blog’s author/and or owner is strictly prohibited.


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