Select Fresh Fish Like You Are Going On A Date

Linda wrote: <raises hand> I have a topic…fear of fish. This is for those of us who still approach the fresh fish/seafood case with trepidation.

I replied: Live ones? Or those on your plate? Fear of eating them? Cooking them? Looking into their little eyes?

She answered: Picking them out.

Oh good!  I get to use one of my favorite metaphors that I learned while I was an apprentice chef, way back in the early ’80’s.  Dr. Bill Kent at Georgia State told us this one, and while you can find this information in lots of books and websites, this explanation has ensured that I have never forgotten the most important aspects of selecting fresh fish.

Planning Your Date With A Fish

“Look for in a fish the same qualities you would look for in a date”, he told us.

  • DR-01Alabama Shad -Alosa alabamaeDuane Raver:Clear Eyes
  • Shiny Skin
  • Tight Scales
  • Red Lips (gills)
  • Firm Flesh
  • No Odor



When selecting a whole fish, the eyes should be clear and not cloudy.  This indicates a fresh fish that has been kept at an appropriate temperature (35 degrees, on ice that is allowed to drain).

The scales should be firm and tight to the body, not curling up.  The tail should be flat and not curling or dry looking.  The skin should glisten, not look like it is muted or covered in slime.

The gills should be bright red, not pale pink. This indicates that they are still full of oxygen, and lets you know how long the fish has been out of the water.

The flesh should be firm and bounce back when pressed.  This goes for whole fish as well as steaks that have been pre-cut.  It shouldn’t feel mushy when you press into it, and your fingers shouldn’t leave indentations that don’t immediately fill back in.

There should be no overtly “fishy smell”.  Ocean fish should smell like the sea, faintly salty and with a fresh fish smell.  Freshwater fish will smell more like a clean lake.

Food Design 174If you are buying cut fillets or steaks, you can make sure the meat has a faint translucence to it and has firm flesh.  Wildcaught salmon will have a much richer color than farmed fish, but the color on both types will fade with age.


Get to know your fishmonger and shop when you can talk to them about your choices.  (They will have the best deals too, I scored some pretty great $5 dollar lobster tails last weekend for my birthday dinner just by chatting with my local grocery store fish department guy.)  Chat them up and tell them what you are planning, they will probably have some good ideas of how to prepare what you are buying, or even suggest something else that might work better.  Heck, you might end up with a date with more than just the fish!



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