Myths and facts: how “fresh” is fresh and chilled seafood? Part23/07/2015
Which techniques are used to make seafood more attractive to the consumer? How and what are we sold? And how to identify quality in seafood?
Seafood is very perishable. Even ‘fresh-from-the-boat’ is not a guarantee: Seafood needs to be handled properly from the minute it leaves the water (for example, kept on ice – not in ice water.) In the market, it’s important to know the signs of freshness and how to buy quality.
Perhaps the ‘fresh’ fillets on ice in the seafood case are actually the very same fillets available a step or two away in the freezer case; they’ve just been defrosted for your ‘convenience’ – and marked up for the store’s profit. This is a common trait used because the idea of “fresh is better than frozen” is a widespread misconception. While there is nothing wrong with defrosting the seafood, the problem is that the technique used is unknown and thus the proper way to store or cook the product is uncertain (on thawing seafood and the related risks see our previous article on the subject).
This seafood is often referred to as chilled seafood. The term is used for both fish that is never frozen and brought to us on ice or in cooling and product that is frozen, thawed and then put on ice. By using this technique the choice of when and how to defrost is taken from the consumer and charged for it.
It pays to keep and eye on the seafood counter of your regular supermarket even if you are not planning to buy anything. This helps give a general idea of what is available and in season. As well as when a cheap price is a good deal or not, since you will know with fair certainty that this week’s “fresh” 7€/kg cod is probably last week’s unsold 14€/kg cod – just older and grayer.
The following should be considered when buying fish and other seafood:
Ok for bright, clear eyes.The eyes are the window to a truly fresh fish, for they fade quickly into gray dullness. Dull-eyed fish may be safe to eat, but they are past their prime.
Next look at the fish.Does it shine? Does it look metallic and clean? Or has it dulled or has discolored patches on it? If so, it is marginal.
Smell it.A fresh fish should smell like clean water, or a touch briny or even like cucumbers. You should never buy a nasty smelling fish.
Look at the gills.They should be a rich red. If the fish is old, they will turn the color of faded brick.
Look for vibrant flesh.All fish fade as they age. If the fillet still has skin, that skin should look as pristine as the skin on an equally good whole fish – shiny and metallic.
Smell it.The smell test is especially important with fillets. They should have no pungent aromas.
Is there liquid on the meat?If so, that liquid should be clear, not milky. Milky liquid on a fillet is the first stage of rot.
If the fishmonger lets you,press the meat with your finger. It should be resilient enough so your indentation disappears. If your fingerprint remains, move on.
Always check the expiration date.
Make sure the package is undamaged.
Make sure there is not water in the package.
See where the product is caught and where processed (for example: caught in the Atlantic, but comes form China, this is a sure sign that this product has been processed in one place and caught in another which means it has been thawed and refrozen).
Recent advances allow for super fast freezing and immediate vacuum sealing right on the fishing boats, this has resulted in much higher quality frozen seafood that can be the equal of – or better than – fresh. That is what we use in Crabit, seafood that is frozen on the ship as soon as possible and brought here immediately to ensure quality for that is what we enjoy.