How to select your fish fillets

Burning Questions

June 21, 2006|By ERICA MARCUS | ERICA MARCUS,NEWSDAY

What should I look for when buying fish fillets?

It's always trickier to assess the quality of a fish fillet or steak than it is of a whole fish. A fresh whole fish should smell just barely of the sea and should be firm and resilient to the touch. The skin should be shiny and taut.

Any time you see a whole fish that you like, you are within your rights to buy it and have the fish monger fillet it for you on the spot.

If you are faced with fillets or steaks, look for moist, firm, full flesh that is not pulling apart or flaking where the muscles come together. There should be no dried-out or brown spots, and the flesh should be true to its natural color: salmon should be bright orange; tuna, red; cod, white. In a fish steak, the flesh should adhere tightly to the bone. Of course, fillets and steaks also should meet the no-smell test.

The best defense against bad fish, however, is a good relationship with your fishmonger. If the fishmonger recommends something you're not familiar with, ask for advice on preparing it.

Don't reflexively reject the idea of frozen fish fillets. The truth is that many a "fresh" fillet has been out of the water, on the road and in the display case for days, if not weeks. Conversely, a "frozen" fillet may have been cut off the fish within hours of being caught, and then flash-frozen right aboard the boat.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday. E-mail your queries to burningquestions@newsday.com, or send them to Erica Marcus, Food/Part 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747-4250.

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