Good Fish, Bad Fish: How to Inspect Fish for Freshness

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Kristin’s post earlier this week about how to store fish reminded us of some advice we received in culinary school about how to distinguish the good fresh fish from those that are past their prime.

Whether you’re buying fresh water fish or an ocean fish, a flat fish or a round one, there are some common indicators of freshness:

• The eyes should be clear, bright, and slightly bulging. If they are cloudy or sunk into the fish’s head, take a pass on that one.
• The gills should be bright red.
• The flesh should be firm and resistant. If your finger leaves an indention in the flesh, that means it’s more than a day old.
• The scales should adhere tightly to the fish.
• The fish should smell like the sea – clean, fresh, and briny. Avoid fish that smell of ammonia or that smell overly “fishy.”
• The fish should have a good overall appearance. This means no cuts or bruises, fins and tails are flexible, and the fish is moist.

If you buy your fish pre-cut into portions, it can be a bit harder to assess its freshness. In general, cut pieces of fish should be shiny and moist with no discoloration. It should still smell briny and ocean-like, and not “fishy.”

As always, it helps to have a trusted fishmonger at your service!

(Image: Flickr member DMahendra licensed under Creative Commons)

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