Sourcing the right ingredients is part of the many priorities of any successful food business. It is a critical decision because of its direct effect on the quality of your end products.
Last week, I started a series on sourcing meats and produce. For this week, let’s talk about seafood.
Western Australia is home to various recreational fishing locations in the world. Our coastline is dotted with fishing boats since many residents consider fishing as part of a lifestyle, and thousands of tourists also fish as a recreation. Because fishing is an ever-present industry here in WA, there are abundant fish markets, fish shops, and even mobile fish vans where chefs can go for their seafood ingredients.
Here are some tips to help you make an informed choice.
Just like the butcher to meats, fishmongers can be a source of great information that you can rely on to help you select quality seafood items. A great fishmonger is knowledgeable and experienced. He can give you details such as the location where a fish was caught or what to buy at certain times of the year. This trust develops over time as you frequent the shop, and you’ve observed how he handles his products and his customers.
The Fish Market /Fish Shop/Fish Truck
- A great tip is to start with how the fish market/fish shop looks and smells like. If the shop and the items are maintained well, you shouldn’t smell fish. Why? Because fresh fish that is iced adequately does not smell, at most, you may sense a hint of ocean brine. If a strong fishy odor whiffs up your nose, it only means that there is not enough attention given to freshness or cleanliness. Walk away.
- Seafood, fish, in particular, spoils quickly, even faster than meat. They deteriorate almost immediately when caught because they have little to no glycogen storage. Lactic acid is a byproduct of glycogen which helps for preservation. Another reason is that due to its high water content, microbes enjoy this high moisture environment. Also, its high oil content makes it susceptible to rancidity.
Once a fish is caught, there is a 48-hour window to use it. In the name of profit, there are some unscrupulous methods to sell a product you should be wary of.
To sell a fish that isn’t fresh:
– the fish eyes are poked out
– the gills are removed
– the fish is washed in a mixture of vinegar and water to remove some of the smell off
- Fish should be either refrigerated or placed on top of a bed of fresh ice. Check the ice if clear and not cloudy. Cloudy ice means there are impurities in the water and is another sign that the shop is not paying attention to freshness.
- If you cannot get your hands on freshly caught fish, buying frozen is not a bad idea. When buying frozen fish, look for vacuum-sealed ones or for packaging that says “flash frozen.” Flash freezing is when the fish is frozen almost immediately after coming out of water. Another tip is to avoid packages that have frost on the fish inside the packaging. Ice crystals may mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen.
- Check out the SALE item. It is easy to think that items placed on sale are those that have not been selling well. For seafood, sometimes, the items on sale are the freshest ones. There are cases where there are big catches of a specific type of fish, and to move the inventory, the prices are slashed down temporarily.
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- Eyes should be bright, clear, and shiny. You would expect that much if you are to see anything underwater, right? The vision should be crystal clear. Therefore, if you see a fish with hazy, cloudy, cataract-looking eyes, that’s a no.
- The gills should be bright red. That’s because a fresh fish still has blood in it. If you can, lift the gill flap to check for the bright and uniform colour on the spongy gills. Many bacteria go through the gills while the fish is in the water, so it is the first part to deteriorate.
- The overall colour of the fish should be bright. As the fish gets older, in tuna’s case, it will no longer has a deep red colour but will instead turn to muddy red. Whitefish should be translucent or such a brilliant white that it seems to have a slightly bluish tint. If there’s a slight yellowish tint or it turns cloudy white, the fish has begun to oxidize and won’t taste very good. However, it is important to note that a fish’s colour can be affected by other factors such as its environment and diet. It can also be affected during packaging processes so do not go solely by colour as an indicator of freshness.
- When you press the flesh, it should be firm, and the indentation created by your pressure should quickly go away. That’s because fresh fish still contains lots of water, contributing to the flesh’s firmness. Therefore when it loses water from its cells as it gets older, the flesh becomes softer.
- Fresh fish is shiny because it still has a lot of water content. As it loses water, the skin reflects less light. There is also a slight silky slimy feel which means that it has just been out of the water.
- The scales should be tightly attached. Loose scales is a definite sign of rotting fish.
- Look for fillets that are firm to the touch, without any stickiness to the feel.
- As for colour, red is your visual cue. For snappers, check if the bloodline is brown. That is a sign that the piece is no longer fresh. Ideally, the skin should be intact too. For tuna, look for vivid red colour.
- Check that there is no drying on the edges of the fillet as well as yellowing or discolouration.
- If the fillets are packaged, check if there’s any liquid sloshing around when you tip the package to one side. The liquid is the juices and water content from the fish, meaning it’s already old.
- Do not choose packages with signs of frost or ice crystals.
- Check if there are gaps in the fillets or if the flesh separates. You want a fish fillet with tight flesh.
It is interesting to note that fresh may not always be a great thing when buying fish for sushi. Tuna and Salmon need at least five days to develop full flavour. Some white fish like Halibut have no flavour, and the flesh is too tough to chew when it’s fresh off the water. Some chefs prefer to freeze Salmon first to get rid of any parasites.
Shellfish and Crustaceans
- For crabs and lobsters, look for high activity. They should be moving and prowling about the tank (which ideally should have clean, clear water, another thing to look for in a shop/market).
- For squid, touch the suckers if they stick to your hand. Their suckers maintain suction within 24 hours after being caught.
- Look for mollusks that sit open and close up when agitated.
- Shells should be intact. No cracks and broken shells.
Chefs and restaurants have different ways to source their products usually combining more than one to best suit their needs.
Surprisingly, many chefs and restaurateurs still find sourcing ingredients to be a challenge. Which is why when they collaborate with Anytime Chefs, not only do we provide relief chefs (among many other services), but we can also connect to suppliers for quality products. Give us a call and let’s talk about how Anytime Chefs can help you and your business!
That’s it for this week.
As always, Professional Chefs on Call at Anytime!
Ciao for now,