Fresh fish when cooked has a most wonderful, sweet and delicate flavour. In order to get the best results when cooking fish, it is imperative that we get the freshest possible, and short of going fishing, there are many ways to ensure that the fish you buy is fresh.
When you enter a wet market or the fish section of a supermarket you should be alert for a fresh and briny smell, quite like the smell of the ocean. The smell should not be fishy, off putting or bad. If it is and the odour is unbearable, then it is a first clear sign of fresh fish gone bad and you may want to think twice before doing your marketing there.
If you are looking for cuts of large fish like tenggirri, jenahak and so on, look carefully at those that have been cut and displayed on the counter top. Fresh fish bleeds when it is sliced. Bright red blood should trickle or seep if the fish is fresh. Stale fish does not seep blood when cut. Instead you will notice dark, dull, brownish clumps of blood locked in the centre where the backbone runs through. That is an indication that the fish is not fresh.
Check those slimy gills
Always make it a point to check the gills because the gills of fresh fish should not only be a bright red but should also display slimy mucous in between its combs, as you stretch them open. In some cases, sand or mud may be present as well. That is a sign of freshness because it means the fish has not been repeatedly frozen and defrosted by which time all sediments or sand trapped there initially would have been ‘washed’ out. If the gills are pink, pale or brownish grey it is an indication that the fish is rotting.
Firm and springy not limp
If you gently prod a whole fish, the flesh should feel firm and spring back. The dent in the area which has been prodded should disappear immediately. The degree of stiffness of the fish will indicate its freshness too. Some fish markets, as the ones in the coastal town of Kota Kinabalu, have fish so fresh that they practically remain stiff and upright when poked face down into a large pile of fellow fish. The stiffer the fish, the fresher it is. Stale and ‘old’ fish will just lie and bend limply over the counter and if you do decide to prod it, the flesh gives way easily. Check the scales. They should be intact, adhere firmly to the skin and the tail should be stiff.
Gleaming, glistening and translucent
The skin of fresh fish glistens and gleams whereas stale fish loses it lustre and appears dull. This is especially true of squid where the skin glistens and sparkles with life as if it is truly fresh. Exposed flesh of cut fish should be translucent and not dull.
When buying whole fish, check that the eyes are bright and clear, not dull and cloudy or sunken. Cloudy eyes are an indication that it is going to rot soon.
Full shell for prawns
There should be no slime or odour on fresh prawns. Look for a full shell which should not be soft with black spots, dark rings or other dark areas on them (except for black tiger prawns). Farmed prawns are usually darker while wild prawns are pinkish and of a lighter colour.
If you are looking for cockles or clams go for those that are tightly shut. It is an indication that they are alive. If open shells do not close even when tapped sharply, they should be thrown out because when dead, the internal organs start to decompose very quickly. Lobsters and crabs on the other hand should be either alive or frozen when bought. They must have all their limbs intact and should feel heavy for their size.
Source: Article contributed by Zurina Ismail