If you have never dared to buy fresh fish from the local wet market or supermarket before, or you have but never knew what to look out for, then this article is for you – A Beginner’s Guide of the 10 things you must know when choosing fresh fish to avoid being duped into buying a fish that is stale or ‘lokok’. Do also check out our Foodie’s Must Have Guide to 10 Common Fish used in our local dishes, their names in different dialects, and how to identify them.
- Look at the eyes of the fish – Most people know that you should choose fish with bright and clear-looking eyes (see photo below: top), not dull-looking eyes which have started to turn whitish (see photo below: bottom). Not everyone knows that there is an exception to this rule – the Asian Sea Bass (also known as Barramundi, 金目鲈 in Chinese and Kim Bak Lor in Hokkien – which translated literally means ‘Golden-Eye Fish’) naturally have cloudy-looking opaque eyes (see photo below), so the clear-eyes rule does not apply here! Check also that the eyes of the fish are not bloodshot – this means the fish was under stress when caught.
- Look at the gills – Open up the cheek flap of the fish to look at the gills. The gills of the fish should be bright red (the colour of fresh blood) as pictured below. If it is dark red or blackish, the fish is not fresh!
- Look at the scales – The scales of the fish should be intact. If the scales are starting to drop off, or look patchy, the fish is not fresh. The scales should have a shiny and shimmery look
- Look at the fins and tails – all the fins and the tail should be fully intact, not dropping off or broken.
- Look at the belly – Avoid fish with bloated bellies – the fish is not fresh, and could have already been dead when caught.
- Smell the fish – It should smell fresh and mildly fishy, but it should not be smelly or have a very fishy or rotten smell.
- Feel the fish – The fish should feel slippery and slimy (as if it is covered in egg white) – the slimier, the better. This means that the fish is freshly caught.
- Lightly press the fish – The fish should be firm to touch
- Look at the colour of the meat – For fish cutlets, ensure that the meat is slightly pinkish and not white (except for white based fish such as cod). This means the fish is fresh. The two photos below are good examples of how fresh fish cutlets should look (top: Indian Threadfin or Ngor Her and bottom: Spanish Mackerel or Batang)
- Look at the colour of the bloodclots – Check that the blood clots around the fish bone are fresh red (see the two photos above), and not dark red or blackish. Some dishonest fishmongers use the trick of smearing the fresh blood of other fish onto fish which is not fresh. To avoid being duped, it is best to check the bone when the fish is being freshly cut. If you find the fish is not fresh, you should not hesitate to reject it.
Thanks for reading all 10 tips for choosing the freshest fish! Don’t forget to read our article on 6 Simple Steps to scale and clean fish like a Pro! And now here’s a bonus tip for you: If you are buying a fish steak cutlet, ask for the section which is about one-third above the tail. Avoid getting the section close to the tail, as it does not have much meat. You should also avoid the stomach section because it can be bitter, especially if the gall breaks during filleting. You can identify the stomach section by the large cavity in the centre of the fish steak.