The fresher the fish, the better, for taste and health.
Unfortunately, labels are not particularly helpful. For example, in the European Union it is not currently required to indicate the catch date, though the possibility of making it obligatory is discussed by the European Commission.
For now, how could the European consumer know that the fillet of Nile perch sold as fresh was actually caught in Central Africa 12-16 days earlier? How many people are aware that many fish species from Asia are sold in Europe and North America as fresh, even though they may have been frozen and defrosted more than once?
To be responsible consumers, we must choose short distribution chains whenever possible in order to guarantee the origin and freshness of the seafood.
Here are some tips on how to recognize fresh fish:
In general, try to buy whole fish instead of fillets: It is easier to tell if they are fresh and they cost less. Then, if you want fillets, a good fishmonger will be able to cut them for you.
When you buy fresh fish, assess the following:
- Smell: Fresh fish should have a slight scent of the sea and seaweed and should never smell unpleasant.
- Overall appearance: Fresh fish is shiny and moist, with a slightly viscous surface. It should be firm to touch; when no longer fresh, the flesh becomes soft and tends to fall apart.
- Eyes: They should be clear, bright and shiny. Stay away from gray, cloudy, opaque eyes.
- Gills: Located at the base of the head, they should be pale red or pink, bright and moist, not sticky or discolored. Checking the gills is one of the easiest and most effective ways of confirming freshness.
- Scales: These should be firmly attached or completely removed.
- Flesh: It should be firm and springy to the touch. In fillets, it is hard to judge the consistency of the flesh. However, depending on the species, it should be a pearly white color, with pinkish shading towards the backbone.
- A fish that has been gutted should have a pale-colored abdominal cavity. If there are traces of blood remaining, they should be bright red, while the backbone should be firmly attached to the flesh.
- To keep fish fresh for longer, transport it to an insulated cooler bag. As soon as you get the fish home, carefully remove any guts, rinse it under running water then pat dry. Store the fish in the lower part of the refrigerator, wrapped in tinfoil, and use it within three days at the most.