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Tips on buying seafood

Knowing how to choose fresh fish or seafood is a vital skill for a seafood cook. Unless you caught the fish yourself, you really have no way of knowing exactly how fresh it is. But buying fresh fish is easy if you know what to look for. Here are tips on choosing fresh fish.

Whole Fish
•    Look for bright, clear eyes. The eyes are the window to a truly fresh fish, for they fade quickly into gray dullness. Dull-eyed fish may be safe to eat, but they are past their prime.

•    Next look at the fish. Does it shine? Does it look metallic and clean? Or has it dulled or has discolored patches on it? If so, it is marginal.

•    Smell it. A fresh fish should smell like clean water, or a touch briny or even like cucumbers. Under no circumstances should you buy a nasty smelling fish. Cooking won't improve it.

•    Look at the gills. They should be a rich red. If the fish is old, they will turn the color of faded brick.

The most important lesson to learn about buying seafood is that fresh is not always better than frozen. In the years before modern refrigeration techniques, fresh meant "just from the water". It was a good measure of quality; if a fish was fresh, it wasn't spoiled. Then refrigeration changed the way we handle perishable food. "Fresh" came to be used for any seafood that had not been frozen—it was no longer an indication of fresh-from-the-water quality.

Today, consumers still seek seafood with just-caught odor, flavor and texture. Such appealing qualities are the result of good handling and temperature control from the time the fish or shellfish leaves the water to the time it reaches the table—and both fresh and frozen seafood can deliver.

So what should a savvy seafood lover look for when shopping for the best seafood? Shop smart by always shopping for quality. And the best way to judge quality, is by using your head—and your eyes, nose and hands. With your senses of smell, sight and touch, you can quickly and reliably evaluate the quality of seafood. Here's what to look for:

Fresh or Thawed Whole Fish

Look for these qualities
•    Shiny, bright and metallic, with tightly adhered scales
•    A fresh "seaweedy" odor, but no strong or "fishy" odors
•    Bright, clear and full eyes, with black pupils and transparent corneas
•    Bright red or pink gills, with little visible mucous or slime
Freezing Seafood at Home
Once frozen seafood has thawed, it is best not to refreeze it. Freezing it again will not make the seafood unsafe, but it will adversely affect the seafood's quality. When purchasing seafood that you intend to freeze–particularly if it will be stored in the freezer for several months–it is best to select commercially frozen products from your retailer's freezer. If the seafood you're buying to freeze is not already frozen, check with your fishmonger to find out if it was frozen and thawed before being set out on display.
1. Rinse the fish with cold running water.

2. Smaller fish can be frozen in one piece. Larger fish or pieces of fish should be cut into 1-inch thick fillets or steaks.

3.The key to successful freezing is to create a barrier to air. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap then protect with an over-wrap of aluminum foil.
Place the seafood in a resealable plastic freezer bag. Press the bag gently to remove air trapped in the bag.
Seal and wrap the aluminum foil.

4. Label with name of seafood and date frozen.

5. Place in a single layer with at least 1 inch of surrounding space to allow for adequate circulation of cold air. One-inch-thick fillets will freeze in about 16 hours.

6.  Thawing Seafood
To maintain the quality of frozen seafood, it is best to defrost it in the refrigerator overnight. Whenever possible, avoid thawing seafood at room temperature or by placing it in warm water. Slow thawing will help retain moisture, flavor and nutrients. Figure a thawing time of 18 to 24 hours for a one-pound package.

7.  Of course, it is not always possible to thaw seafood overnight. If you're in a hurry, you can thaw frozen fish and shellfish under cold running water. Seal the seafood in a plastic bag and place in a large bowl. Position the bowl and seafood under the faucet and adjust the faucet so that a steady stream of water circulates and spills out of the bowl. A one-pound package will take 30 to 60 minutes to thaw.



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