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Monday, May 3, 2010

How to choose the right frozen fish

Not everyone has access to quality fish markets. Maybe you live in a small town, or in a rural area. This means most of the fish and seafood you will buy will come from a mega mart. All is not lost, however, as there is good seafood to be had at most supermarkets -- if you know where to look and what to look for.

Go to the freezer section. Lets not be bother with the "fresh" fish displayed in the supermarket. It will most likely stink, be days old or worse -- thawed, pre-frozen seafood. Eeeww. The supermarket will not sell enough seafood to really get their hands on the top-quality fish. Frozen fish, on the other hand, won't be so damaged.

When you are over at the freezer section, look at the labels. The first thing you should look for is an indication that this seafood was caught where exactly. But note this, most supermarket never provide this info. For them, only the price tag matters. Giants? Servay Hypermarket? CKS? Only price tags matters.

What if you are looking for shellfish? Sorry, but unless you have access to a really good supermarket, don't buy shellfish. That means no "fresh" clams, oysters, mussels or lobsters. Even lobsters, which will be sold live in tanks, lose a lot of quality when they languish in a tank. And it is tough to ship live clams, oysters and mussels long distances without losing quality: It can be done, but you'll know that the quality is high by the price and the smell. My advice? Buy frozen, or stick to fish.

Be careful when choosing the right frozen fish. Not every fish freezes well. Oily fish such as yellow-tail or some tuna are generally unsuited to freezing, and even salmon can suffer if frozen too long. Look instead for these common supermarket fish:
  • Pacific cod or Pollock
  • Sockeye salmon (it's leaner than king salmon)
  • Yellow-tail tuna (generally cut from lean portions)
  • Swordfish or Thresher shark
  • Tilapia
  • Catfish
  • Walleye
  • Pacific halibut
  • "Sole," which is really flounder
  • "Snapper," which is rarely true red snapper (Kerapu)
  • Shrimp
  • Squid
  • Crab
  • Vacuum-packed sea scallops (they must be sealed to be worth buying) 
As I mentioned above with sea scallops, vacuum-sealing is a sure sign of good frozen fish. I never buy frozen fish that has simply been placed on a Styrofoam tray, covered with plastic wrap and tossed in the freezer -- that is a recipe for freezer burn. The only exception to the vacuum-seal rule is when the package explicitly says the seafood was "flash frozen," which means it was frozen right after it was caught in a super-cooler. Once frozen this way, it can be placed in a sealed bag without a vacuum seal and stay in good shape for several months. So now you know.


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