How to Choose Fresh Fish

How to Choose Fresh Fish


I was born and brought up in a small town, called Zushi, surrounded by small fishing villages facing Pacific Ocean. Until I moved out of my hometown, I didn’t know that it was rare to get fresh fish which were caught in the area.

I regularly bought fish from a fish market 5 stores down from my parents barber shop. There, they have many kinds of fish; salmon fillets, sardines, mackerels, jack mackerels, red snappers, squids, cattle fish, sea urchins, bonitos, sword fish fillets, yellow tails fillets, tuna fish fillets and more. Most of the fish are so fresh, that I could eat raw.

It was easy to see which fish were better than the others, as most of the fish had heads still attached. You wouldn’t buy the fish if the pupils are cloudy or eyes are flooded with blood.

How to Choose Fresh Fish

  • Eyes are clear without blood or white clouds
  • Body is firm and plump
  • Fins look fresh (not dried)
  • Gills are bright red (you need to lift the flap up to see inside)

But most of the fish we see in the U.S. are sold as fillets. It is difficult to identify the freshness, and sellers can fool buyers by applying a thin layer of MSG solution on the surface of the fillets (I don’t know this practice is done in the United States, but my brother who fishes and cooks on his own swears that it is widely done in Japan.).

How to Choose Fresh Fillets

  • Buy fillets of fresh looking surface with firm and tight flesh
  • Avoid dried and dull looking fillets
  • Don’t buy if water is coming out of the fillet and making a puddle in the tray
  • Fresh fillets shouldn’t smell when you take out of the package

I sometimes buy salmon and tuna fish fillets at Costco, and they are one of the freshest fillets I’ve ever seen in the United states. The only problem buying fish at Costco is that they come in bulk. I tend to finish tuna within a couple of days after the purchase, but I freeze a huge fillet of salmon, after cutting it into portions.

I also avoid buying fish at a smelly fish market. The smell of fish is the smell of deterioration. If the fish are properly taken care of, there shouldn’t be any foul odors coming out of the store. I don’t buy fish kept alive in a water tank either, because they all look sick to me.

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