Fresh fish is a highly nutritious, economical addition to any menu. It usually costs less than other protein foods and is easy to prepare. It also saves time as it can be cooked in a few minutes, instead of a few hours, like certain types of meat.
Nowadays, many grocery stores stock a wide variety of fresh fish.
What to look out for
Make sure that you get the best value for money. Here are some tips to look out for when buying fresh, frozen or canned fish or shellfish:
1. Check the skin of the fish. It should be shiny, almost metallic, with colour that has not faded. As the fish decomposes, its skin markings and colours become less distinctive.
2. Look at the scales of the fish. Scales should be brightly coloured and tightly attached to the skin. The gills should be red and free from slime. As fish ages, the gills change colour, fading gradually to a light pink, then becoming grey and eventually turning a brownish or greenish colour.
3. Check the eyes if the head is still on the fish. The eyes should be bright, clear, transparent and full, often protruding. As the fish decomposes, its eyes become cloudy, and may turn pink and shrink.
4. Check the flesh of whole or dressed fish. It should be firm, elastic and not separated from the bones. Fish fillets should have a fresh-cut appearance and colour that resembles freshly dressed fish.
5. Check the odour. The odour should be fresh or mild, not fishy.
Fresh fish is not available all year round. Packages of frozen fish should be solidly frozen and have little or no odour.
The wrapping should be of a moisture-proof, vapour-proof material with little or no air space between the product and the wrapping.
A white cottony appearance, a brownish tinge, or any discolouration in frozen fish indicates poor quality.
Canned fish products
Check the labels on canned, frozen or cured fish products. Besides describing content and weight, the label may give an indication of grade, size and species, other ingredients added, number of servings, cooking or heating instructions, and recipes or serving ideas.
Shellfish: A few tips
- Oysters and clams in the shell should be alive and the shell should be closed when handled. Gaping shells mean that the shellfish is dead. If they gape, don't buy them.
- Freshly shucked oysters should be plump and a creamy white to grey colour. There should be no odour. Oysters turn many different colours for different reasons: rapid change in temperature, or what the oyster has eaten, can play a role. The colour of fresh oysters (which is safe for consumption) may be described as creamy, grey, brownish, pale yellow, red, green or a combination of these colours.
- Fresh shrimp should have a fresh, mild odour and firm texture. The shells should be a greenish-grey to a brownish colour, depending on the kind of shrimp. A red-orange colour may indicate that the shrimp is decomposing.
- Cooked shrimp should have a red colour in the shells and the meat should have a reddish tinge.
- Live crawfish, crabs and lobsters should be active, free of mud and debris, with no unpleasant odour.
- Cooked crawfish and lobster tails should be curled, indicating that the shellfish were alive at the time of cooking.
A healthy option
Fish is lower in fat than both beef and poultry and should be an important aspect of a heart-healthy diet. Shellfish, such as shrimp and lobster, is somewhat higher in cholesterol and, even though it has a low-fat content, it should be eaten in moderation. This prohibition doesn't apply to clams.
The body cannot manufacture omega-3 fatty acids, so you have to get these essential fats from the food you eat. Cold-water fish, like salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring, are particularly good sources of the omega-3s. However, most varieties of fish are sources.