Buying and Storing Fish

How to buy and store fish

Buying Fish
Look for fresh-smelling whole fish with shiny skin; reddish pink, moist gills; and clear, bulging eyes. The flesh should spring back when you press it lightly. Choose fish fillets that look moist and not dry. Get tightly sealed, solidly frozen packages of frozen fish.

Avoid fresh whole fish whose eyes have sunk into the head (a clear sign of aging); fillets that look dry; and packages of frozen fish that are stained (whatever leaked on the package may have seeped through onto the fish) or are coated with ice crystals (the package may have defrosted and been refrozen).


Storing Fish
Remove fish from plastic wrap as soon as you get it home. Plastic keeps out air, encouraging the growth of bacteria that make the fish smell bad. If the fish smells bad when you open the package, throw it out.
Refrigerate all fresh and smoked fish immediately. Fish spoils quickly because it has a high proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids (which pick up oxygen much more easily than saturated or monounsaturated fatty acids). Refrigeration also slows the action of microorganisms on the surface of the fish that convert proteins and other substances to mucopolysaccharides, leaving a slimy film on the fish. Keep fish frozen until you are ready to use it. Store canned fish in a cool cabinet or in a refrigerator (but not the freezer). The cooler the temperature, the longer the shelf life.


Preparing and Cooking Fish
For fresh fish, rub the fish with lemon juice, then rinse it under cold running water. The lemon juice (an acid) will convert the nitrogen compounds that make fish smell "fishy" to compounds that break apart easily and can be rinsed off the fish with cool running water. Rinsing your hands in lemon juice and water will get rid of the fishy smell after you have been preparing fresh fish.

As for frozen fish, defrost plain frozen fish in the refrigerator or under cold running water. Prepared frozen fish dishes should not be thawed before you cook them since defrosting will make the sauce or coating soggy.
Salted dried fish. Salted dried fish should be soaked to remove the salt. How long you have to soak the fish depends on how much salt was added in processing. A reasonable average for salt cod, mackerel, haddock (finnan haddie), or herring is three to six hours, with two or three changes of water.

When you are done, clean all utensils thoroughly with hot soap and hot water. Wash your cutting board, wood or plastic, with hot water, soap, and a bleach-and-water solution. For ultimate safety in preventing the transfer of microorganisms from the raw fish to other foods, keep one cutting board exclusively for raw fish, meats, and poultry, and a second one for everything else. Finally, don't forget to wash your hands.

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