Many supermarket seafood departments get a bad rap for selling expensive yet not-so-fresh options. But if you live in an area with no access to quality fish markets, you have no other choice but to rely on the next best thing: the competitive supermarket.
All is not lost, however, as you can find good seafood at most supermarkets if you know what to look for and ask for.
When buying seafood at the supermarket, check out these tips to score some quality fares.
1. Go to the frozen section
Fresh fish isn’t always better than frozen – especially when we’re talking about buying in areas away from the sea.
Fish and seafood are extremely perishable, thus should be handled properly the minute it leaves the water, including transportation to the storage. The “fresh” fish showcased in the supermarket will most likely stink or be days old.
Do yourself a favor and head to their freezer section. Frozen seafood products are “less damaged” than fresh fish”
2. Look for the seal
If you’re looking for high-quality seafood, don’t just buy frozen fish that’s simply been placed on a Styrofoam tray, covered with cling wrap, ad tossed in the freezer. Make sure the product is vacuum-sealed. You may also look for “flash-frozen” labels, which imply that it’s frozen right after it was caught.
3. Just because it’s not in the freezer doesn’t mean it’s freshly caught
The “fresh” fillets displayed on a bed of ice may be the same ones available a step or two away in the freezer case. They’ve just been defrosted for your convenience. Nothing’s wrong with this tactic, as long as the product is labeled as “previously frozen.” But the thing is, this isn’t always done, so ask ahead.
4. Pay attention to the ice
Yes, even the ice in fish display cases can tell whether the products are handled properly. The ice should be clear. If it’s cloudy or yellowed, it’s unlikely to be changed very often – a subtle sign of neglect.
5. Watch out for liquid in packaged fish fillets
Tilt a few packaged fish fillets to one side. Do you see any liquid sloshing around? If so, mark it as a red flag – that means the fish been sitting around too long. Those nasty juices are fluids that have escaped as the fish aged and dried out.
6. Convenience can cost you
The supermarket also often pre-seasoned fish, like Cajun-spiced tilapia or teriyaki-marinated fish skewers. While they can be a time-saver for some, they’re usually more expensive than a plain, untouched piece of fish. This price increase is often unjustified since they only use a few cents worth of seasoning.
Another good reason not to pay extra? Some dishonest vendors use heavy seasoning to cover up seafood that’s not fresh enough to sell.
7. Take advantage of free services
Now, here’s an example of convenience that doesn’t cost a dime: supermarkets have free services you can take advantage of. You can ask them to fillet your fish, slice them according to your desired dish, and even bag up the head and bones if you want to make fish stock.
8. Avoid buying fresh shellfish at a supermarket
Unless you have access to a first-grade supermarket in a major city, try to stay away from fresh shellfish. Live clams, oysters, and mussels are likely to difficult to ship without losing their quality. Our tip: you’re better off buying frozen shellfish or buying at an online seafood market where freshness and quality are guaranteed.
9. Buy local
To find the freshest fish, you can never go wrong with picking local species over the ones that come from far away. Opt for a type of seafood that’s native to your region.
10. When in doubt, skip the bargain fish
When you see products getting marked down, chances are they’re about to go bad. The same goes for fish and seafood, which are extremely perishable. Unless you’re confident about distinguishing the characteristics of fresh, high-quality seafood, it’s better to skip bargain fish.
11. Ask for ice for your trip home
Your trip from the store to your home is enough to degrade the quality of your seafood, especially on hot days. Keep this from happening by requesting a bag of ice. It’s also a smart move to bring a cooler when shopping.
12. Keep it frozen
Chances are, it’s not the store’s fault when seafood product you bought tastes and smells less than fresh – how you transport and store them matter.
As soon as you get home, fill a container with ice, put the seafood in, and keep it in your fridge. If it’s not sealed well, consider wrapping it in plastic wrap first. Experts agree that seafood is best stored at around 28°F.
13. Defrost in the fridge
When defrosting, it’s best to thaw it inside the fridge instead of letting it defrost at room temperature. Not only they’re protected from contamination – defrosting in the fridge also leads to tastier seafood.
Author Bio: Mina Natividad is a passionate daytime writer for Manettas Seafood Market, an online and interactive seafood hub which provides customers a true, first-class fish market experience without leaving home. Since she’s a seafood lover herself, she’s got a lot to say about food, well-being, and lifestyle.