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The rules to recognize the best seafood and how to understand if it is fresh

Not everyone knows how to recognize fresh seafood and distinguish it from defrosted seafood or seafood that has been in the fish shop for some days. Here's everything you need to know to put some good seafood on the table.

By Cookist

Seafood should never be missing on our tables: it is in fact a low-fat food and it is rich in protein and Omega 3. But, despite being one of the most popular foods, it is not always so easy to buy it and understand if what we find in fish shops is a fresh and genuine product or not. According to law, seafood is fresh for up to 3 days from the time of fishing, if it is stored under favorable conditions: for example, a fish just fished and kept at high temperatures will perish within a few hours. Then, let’s find out how to understand if the seafood is fresh with some simple rules for an informed purchase without risks for our health.

How to understand if seafood is fresh: the general rules for a safe purchase

To understand if the seafood we are about to buy is fresh or not, there are important olfactory and visual signs to be evaluated: the smell is fundamental but it is very important to also observe the eyes, the gills, the consistency, the skin, all elements that can help us to understand if what we are buying is fresh or perished seafood. Here is precisely what you need to know.

The smell is the first element to be evaluated

The smell is the first thing that you need to take in consideration to be sure of the seafood freshness. In fact seafood must smell of sea and saltiness, so if it smells bad and rotten, avoid buying it. Although it seems easy, however not everyone has an experienced nose to understand when, for example, the seafood smell is covered with ammonia, which is used to disinfect it by delaying its putrefaction. This is why it is essential to recognize other visual signals to understand if your purchase is safe.

The seafood must be shiny and bright

Fresh seafood must be shiny and bright, covered with a skin mucus that makes it luminous and slippery to the touch. Instead, if the seafood is defrosted and not fresh, the skin will be opaque. When you buy bluefish such as anchovies and sardines, look also at the belly: in fact, in these species the entrails decompose faster and this causes a swelling, a sign that seafood is not fresh.

The color of the fish must be bright and rich in nuances that – more evident because of the light – will reflect the colors of the rainbow. Therefore do not trust a monochromatic fish whose skin is opaque.

The eye must be alive

The eyes of a fresh fish, although expressionless, must be vivid and still swollen, or anyway protruding, with a black pupil. If the eye is dull, gray and sunken, then it is better not to buy it: evaluate these elements also to understand if the fish has been defrosted, also in this case in fact the eyes will be opaque and concave. You just need to evaluate these few elements to make the right purchase, without risks for your health.

The fish must be rigid and must have bright red gills

Tact is also important: touching seafood is another important element to evaluate its freshness. The fish must be rigid: in fact, in seafood rigor mortis occurs faster than in mammals, so immediately after fished a fish will be rigid. What if the body is flaccid? It means that the seafood has been there for a few days and so it is better not to buy it.

The gills must be bright red and wet: to evaluate the freshness of the seafood open them and if you find blood drops it is even better, it means that the blood has not had time to coagulate and therefore the seafood is fresh. The scales, however, must be adherent to the body. If the color is brownish or dark red, it means that the fish has been fished some days before.

Tips and tricks to recognize fresh seafood, and not only when we buy it in a fish shop


Let's find out some useful tricks and tips to understand when the seafood is fresh, not only when we buy it at the fish shops or at the fish market, but also when we cook it or we eat it at the restaurant.

Even at home we can understand if the fish is fresh: you will notice it especially at the time of evisceration: if the entrails are liquefied and the smell is unpleasant, it means that the seafood is not fresh. If you do not want to eviscerate it by yourself, ask the fish seller and watch him during this operation, you have every right to watch.

How to recognize fresh seafood in the display counter: also in this case the same rules of the fish shops apply. But usually in supermarkets we find farmed fish for sale and, in this case, pay attention to the origin: Italian fishes are thinner because they are subject to stricter rules, they are in fact fed with low fat and low antibiotic feeds. Then, just prefer seafood that has been bred in the sea, as it has more space to swim and feed itself more naturally.

At the restaurant, just ask to see the fishes they will cook for you: in addition to evaluating the smell, the eyes and the gills, evaluate if the various fishes are almost equal in size and weight, this means in fact that it is farmed seafood. Then evaluate also the taste, the seafood should not be dry and stringy, and neither too rich in seasoning anyway, in fact seasoning can be used to disguise a frozen seafood and present it as fresh.

Learn to distinguish fresh seafood from defrosted seafood: defrosted seafood looks like seafood that is not fresh, so it has all the negative characteristics we talked about, including non-rigid body, dull eyes, etcetera… Anyway, do not demonize frozen seafood because everything depends on quality: many famous restaurants in fact use it, especially shrimps, octopuses and cuttlefishes, and this thing ensures a greater freshness, as it is seafood mostly fished in distant seas that otherwise would not arrive fresh at destination.

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