By Allrecipes Editors
June 19, 2015
Pictured: Baked Fresh Rainbow Trout | Photo by Dan Roden

One fish, two fish.

Fish are delicate creatures and begin to deteriorate as soon as they are lifted from the water. If you're hoping to get your family hooked on fish, choosing the freshest fish available can make all the difference. Here's a quick guide on what to look for so you'll always buy the freshest fish.

Choosing Fresh Fish

In the fish display section of your market, look for clean well-drained ice; whole fish should be stored directly on the ice. There should be no staining or greying areas on the ice, which might indicate that it's not changed frequently. If the fish is prepackaged, look for clean, dry materials.

Most importantly, there should not be a strong fishy smell. Fresh fish should smell like a sea breeze on an island in the Bahamas.

Spend a little time talking with the fishmonger. Find out who the wholesaler is, and where the fish was caught. Ask if the fish has been previously frozen. Flash-freezing techniques have improved to such an extent that texture is hardly affected by freezing, but a fish that was previously frozen and thawed should not be refrozen: it should be eaten on the day of purchase.

Ask for recommendations on choosing the fish, and how it is best prepared. A good fishmonger will know these things and more.

How to Choose Whole Fresh Fish

When you shop for whole fresh fish, your senses are your best tool. Here's what to look, feel, and sniff for:

  • Fish should look as if it might jump up and swim away. The skin should be bright and shiny with close-fitting scales. Dry, dull flesh and loose scales are signs of age.
  • The eyes should be clear and bulging; if the fish has sunken or cloudy eyes, look for a fresher specimen.
  • Gills should be reddish and damp, not sticky.
  • It may not be possible to poke and prod the fish before purchase, but the feel of the flesh is also an important indication of freshness. The flesh should be firm and elastic: when you press it, the flesh should bounce back, leaving no indentation.
  • Smell, as previously noted, is one of the most important indications of freshness. Fish should have a pleasant smell.

How to Choose Fresh Fish Steaks and Fillets

There are many good reasons to choose steaks and fillets. The cleaning is done for you, it is possible to buy just the right amount for your needs, and mealtime preparation is shortened. To choose steaks and fillets:

  • The flesh should be firm. It should appear moist; a whitish film on the surface indicates dehydration.
  • The coloring should be even. White-fleshed fish such as cod or bass should be white, with no darkened areas.

Choosing Sustainable Seafood

Another key consideration, is the fish sustainable? You can find out by glancing at Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Consumer Guides, which include recommendations for sustainable seafood.The guides rank seafood choices by "Best," "Good Alternatives," and "Avoid." You can also download a Seafood Watch app for your phone, so you'll always know which fresh seafood is sustainable.

Check out our complete collection of Fish Recipes.