All Divas should know that freshness is the all-important factor to consider when buying any seafood that hasn’t been preserved.
Fresh fish is highly perishable and it is vitally important for you to know the signs of fish in prime condition and those specimens that you should avoid.
Wherever you buy your seafood, the display slab should be spotlessly clean and there should be plenty of crushed ice around the seafood. Whole, cleaned fish deteriorate less quickly than steaks or fillets, so look for a display that includes these:
Fish shouldn’t smell “fishy”, more like a fresh ocean breeze. Whole fish should be firm, not floppy, and the flesh should feel firm and elastic when you press gently.
The eyes should be protruding and dear, not sunken or cloudy; any scales should be shiny and tight against the skin; the gills should be clear and bright red, not dull or gray.
Fillets and steaks should be cleanly cut and look moist and fresh, with a shiny “bloom” on the surface and no yellowing or browning. There should not be much air between the fish and wrapping or any pools of liquid or blood.
Storage – Remove all packaging and clean the fish with a damp doth, then wrap it in wet paper towels and place on a lipped plate at the bottom of the refrigerator, at a temperature no higher than 40°F/4°C.
Shellfish, which include includes bivalves (clams, mussels, oysters, scallops), crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, shrimp), and cephalopods (squid and octopus), must be consumed on the day of purchase.
Bivalves: Closed shell or snapped shut means they are alive.
- Clams: Hard shell clams are less sandy because they keep their shell shut and are better suited to be served stuffed or raw. Soft shell clams are more sandy and are best suited to be steamed, fried or made into the famous clam chowder.
- Mussels: Mussels have hard shells and can be either fresh or salt water. It is important to clean them well and remove the “beard” otherwise they will taste quite foul.
- Oysters: West coast oysters are less salty than their East coast counterparts. They have hard shells and can grow up to 6 inches long.
Scallops: Sea scallops are shucked at sea so all you have to do is remove the crescent shaped muscle that attached it to the shell. If you have to get ones preserved with chemicals use a lemon juice, salt and water mixture for about half an hour.
Bay scallops are found from New Jersey to The Gulf of Mexico and are much more tender than sea scallops. They have a sweeter taste and are used in stews, stir fries and soups.
Storage – Refrigerate ASAP. Keep live clams, mussels, and oysters in their bag, over ice, covered with a towel. Do not put them in a bowl of water or a sealed container, because they will die. Keep them on ice and allow them to breathe or they will die. Do not leave them on the counter or they will die and make sure they don’t come in contact with melted ice
*I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping them alive as you can can extremely ill by eating dead shellfish.*
Store oysters in their shells, rounded cup down, covered with a wet cloth or some seaweed, in the fridge over ice.
Store scallops in an airtight bag or container in the fridge on a bed of ice (while they may be dead already, you don’t want any of them getting warm)
Crustaceans: Look for firm and fresh without any black spots (unless it’s black, jumbo shrimp)
Lobster: Hard shell lobster is meatier and tastes better. You can tell how hard the shell is by squeezing it, if it yields, you may want to pass on that one.
Crayfish: Crayfish are extremely popular throughout North America, especially in Lousiana. They are closely related to lobsters and are a decadency throughout the south. The tail portions are most commonly eaten but you can boil the whole and eat the whole thing.
- King Crab: King crab is sold pre-cooked and frozen. The meat is sweet and mild and generally it is the legs that are eaten, although I know a woman who enjoys all of the meat.
It is a dangerous job fishing for king crab as many fishermen die in the icy Alaskan waters. If you’re curious about it you can check out the show “Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel.
- Blue Crab: An extremely popular crab comes from Chesapeake Bay and that is the Blue Crab. They are usually steamed with vinegar and seasoning, then cracked open and served with melted butter or made into Crab Louis and Crab Imperial.
- Dungeness Crab: Dungeness Pacific crab has a meat very similar to that of the lobster. They are a larger and heavier crab and taste great boiled and dressed with a vinaigrette.
Shrimp: Shrimp come in many sizes. It all depends on your preference. When cooking them you want to de-vein and peel the shrimp and make sure not to over cook them as they become rubbery. They should lo:ok bright pink and look like a letter “c” shape.
Storage: Refrigerate in breathable seafood bag or in bowl, covered with wet paper towels or newspaper to keep them moist.
Shrimp should be stored in the coldest part of the fridge in a bowl full of ice in an open bag with a damp cloth over the top. If it can’t breathe, it will start to stink.
Cephalopods: Avoid brown patches and foul smell
- Squid: Squids have long bodies, big eyes, eight arms and two tentacles. They are usually served deep fried with a flavored mayonnaise or aioli.
- Octopus: Octopus also have eight arms and have a smaller proportioned head. They can be served with a white wine sauce, olive oil and lemon juice or with garlic, bay leaves and black pepper. There are more ways to cook it but it is generally grilled.
- Snails: While snails aren’t generally considered shellfish, they are mollusks and still fit into that category. Have you ever had escargot? Well, that’s made of snails, garlic butter and cheese. So delicious!
Storage: Keep on a tray over ice. In the fridge. They can be bought fresh or frozen
Snails: Some come in a can so have a good shelf life. Otherwise, they should be stored on a tray over ice.