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Fresh Fish 101: Buying, Storing & Cooking


To help home cooks make the best choices, we've compiled a list of tips and tricks for navigating the seafood counter.

When it comes to sustainability, the waters are murky at best. Buying, cooking, and enjoying fish may seem like a challenge when you're awash with confusing and sometimes conflicting information. By following our guidelines, handling seafood responsibly becomes a breeze.

AT THE MARKET

  • Ask Questions: Is the fish farmed or wild? Where's it from: ocean, country, region, locality? If wild, how was it caught?
  • First Glance: Look for uniformly colored, shiny flesh. Reddish-brown bruises indicate mishandling. For whole fish, look for clear, bulging eyes, bright red gills, and moist, flat tails.
  • Off the Rocks: Avoid skinless fillets stored directly on ice–ice and water damage fish flesh.
  • Press Test: Fresh fish feels firm and springy. Press lightly–if a dent stays, the fish is old, previously frozen, or both. Skin should be moist, not slimy.
  • The Nose Knows: Fresh fish–and a good seafood market–smell faintly and pleasantly like the ocean. If it's fishy, it's off.
  • Ice It: Have the fishmonger put your watertight-wrapped purchase in a bag of crushed ice.

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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AT HOME

  • Keep It Cold: Store in the coldest part of your fridge, usually the bottom shelf toward the back.
  • Tight Seal: To store longer than a couple of hours, wrap fillets tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap or a zip-top plastic bag, place in a larger container, and cover with ice. Drain and add ice as needed. Still, try to cook as soon as possible after purchasing–it's not getting any fresher.
  • Store as They Swim: Surround whole fish with ice in a deep container in the same position as they swim–dorsal fins upright– to avoid flesh damage and let cavity fluids drain.

AT THE STOVE

  • Pat Dry: Gently dab with paper towels before cooking. Surface moisture hinders browning and crisp skin and can make fish stick in the pan.
  • Season: Add salt immediately before or during cooking so crystals don't have time to remoisten surface flesh.
  • Test Doneness: Slide a metal skewer or paring knife into the side of the thickest part of the fillet: If it slips in without resistance, it's ready. Or, press the thick part lightly with your finger. It's done if it gives and doesn't spring right back. Don't wait too long to check–fish often cooks faster than you think.

Enter freezing, canning, and curing—three centuries-old techniques for preserving fish. Read on for tips on how best to safely put them to use to enjoy your fish for weeks and months to come.

Freezing Fish: Freezing is the easiest and most common way to preserve fish. When frozen in an at-home refrigerator, a fatty fish like tuna or salmon will last two to three months. A leaner fish like cod will last up to six months. When vacuum-sealed and properly stored in the freezer, fish can last for as long as two years. If frozen fish is properly thawed, there should be little to no difference in texture when compared to fresh fish. Freeze your fish as soon as possible after purchasing, preserving it at its peak freshness to increase its shelf life.

Canning: Unlike freezing, canning or jarring enables you to store your fish safely without electricity for more than five years. This method preserves the shelf life of fish the longest. Canning involves soaking fresh fillets in brine, packing them into sterile quart jars and bringing the jars to a boil in a pressure canner. Canned fish has a different texture and flavor than fresh fish but are delicious in their own right.

Curing Fish: Curing preserves fish by either smoking or salting it. Smoked fish requires soaking it in brine then placing it in an enclosed space over a smoking fire source. Different woodsmoke, like cherry, apple or hickory add different flavors to the fish. Vacuum-packed, smoked fish will last for two to three weeks, or two to three months when frozen.

Salting fish involves rubbing your fish with a dry brine made of salt, sugar, and spices and storing it in a refrigerator for two to three days. The result is commonly known as gravlax, and properly refrigerated lasts for three to five days.

Read more in our Essential Guide to Sustainable Seafood series:


A Quick Guide to Conquer Your Fear of Cooking Fish

So, you know that fish is good for you, and you’re ready to eat more of it at home. But, you’re not sure where to start and you’re afraid you’ll mess it up—you hear it can be tricky to cook. Sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone. Which is why we put together a quick guide to help demystify buying, storing and cooking both fresh and frozen fish.

Make the right pick at the store

If you’re buying fresh fish, you’ll know you’re at a good fish counter if the fish are displayed on an abundance of crushed ice. You want the skin to be shiny and the gills to be a cherry red color—not brown or yellow. Keep a look out for is Frozen-at-Sea (FAS) label, which means the fish was flash frozen aboard the ship soon after harvest. (Sea-frozen fish that has been thawed is nearly indistinguishable from fresh-off-the-line fish, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.)

For frozen fish, make sure the packaging is secure and the contents of the bag are rock solid. When removed from the bag the fish should be shiny and free of ice crystals. Every Australis Barramundi fillet is flash frozen and individually vacuum-sealed to ensure that there is never freezer burn.

Now, let’s talk about price. The cost for fresh fish tends to vary depending on geography, time of year and where you’re buying it. (For example, are you buying wild salmon in June, when it’s in season, or in the middle of winter? Are you shopping at Whole Foods or your local fishmonger?) Frozen on the other hand tends to be less expensive and the prices are more consistent.

As for farm-raised versus wild fish—one isn’t necessarily better than the other. There are good and not-so-great options for both. The important thing to look out for, whether farm-raised or fresh, is understanding how the fish was caught or farmed. Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch® App to get recommendations for responsible choices by species, origin and method.

Store it properly

Frozen fish is perfectly sealed will stay fresh and nutritious in the freezer for a while. (For example, our barramundi frozen fillets are good for up to two years in the freezer.) When it comes to fresh fish, you should eat it within 2-3 days of purchase. If your fish smells unpleasantly fishy—frozen or fresh—don’t eat it. Quality seafood should smell like the ocean, not sour or fishy, according to FishWatch U.S. Seafood Facts.

Cook it (and enjoy)

Contrary to what you might think, fish is actually quite simple to cook. It’s table-ready much faster than other animal proteins like beef or chicken. That said, there are some simple dos and don’ts to remember.

Do keep an eye on it

In general, fish only needs a few minutes of heat on each side to cook. Oil-coated fillets can be pan seared for just 2-3 minutes on each side. When grilling, a moderately thick fillet won’t even need to be flipped. If you’re following a recipe take note of the recommended cook time so that your fish doesn’t turn out too dry (perfectly cooked fish is moist). One of the reasons people, and we, love barramundi is because of its moderate fat content, which makes it very difficult to overcook.

Do know what to look for

Fish is generally done cooking when it starts to flake inside. To check for this, poke a fork into the fillet at an angle, and pull up to peak inside. If the meat is still translucent, it needs to cook longer if it’s flaky and opaque, it’s ready to go.

Don’t stress about prep

Fish is extremely versatile, and the more mild-tasting the fish is (like barramundi) the more flexibility it has in the kitchen. If step-by-step recipes aren’t your thing or seem overwhelming, simply season the fish with the spices and rubs you already have in your cupboard, or just a little oil, salt and pepper go a long way.

Check out our recipes for simple—and delicious—ways to cook Australis Barramundi.


How to cook it? The sky’s the limit. You can dunk it in salted water, boiling or simmering until tender. You can grill it. You can bake it. And yes, the Bundt pan hack you’ve read about does work to get those kernels off, if you want to toss them into a raw corn salad with tomatoes and herbs. Sauté them in butter with shallots for a warm side dish, or spin saut kernels with coconut milk (another Battilana recipe from her book). There are a ton of options out there (ahem, bacon).

If you’re grilling corn, there are a few camps Battilana simply leaves the husks on, brushed with canola oil, and grills directly on the coals. (She doesn’t soak, nor does she pull the silk out beforehand, but to each her own!)

One of Battilana’s favorite recipes, a riff on Mexican street corn inspired by Italian flavors, is below.

Cacio e Pepe Corn

By Jessica Battilana, for Corn, published by Short Stack

  • ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 ½ teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 4 ears corn, shucked
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a small bowl, stir together the Pecorino, Parmesan and black pepper, then spread the mixture in a thin layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the corn and boil for 5 to 6 minutes. Drain the corn, rub the ears all over with the butter, then roll each ear in the cheese mixture, pressing lightly so it adheres. Serve immediately.


Substitutions for Fish Sauce

You can find fish sauce in any Asian market, or even in some supermarkets these days. If, however, you can’t find it, you can substitute a bit of soy sauce and some finely minced anchovies.

If you’re vegan or have a seafood or shellfish allergy, you can substitute mushroom flavored soy sauce, which will provide both the salt and umami elements. The flavor won’t be quite as rich, but it’ll do in a pinch!

You could also substitute vegan fish sauce, which is made from kelp:

Our Favorite Dishes That Use This Ingredient:

If you have further questions about this ingredient, let us know in the comments––we try to answer every single one.

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About Everyone

This post includes contributions from two or more of us. So rather than deciding who gets a byline, we're just posting under the general moniker, "Everyone." Very diplomatic, wouldn't you say?


Brussels Sprouts 101: How to Buy, Store, and Cook Them

Have you been eating enough Brussels sprouts? We reached out to a top chef to get her tips on buying and cooking them correctly.

People get passionate about Brussels sprouts. There are those who don’t appreciate seeing them turned into tempeh-stuffed “sliders” for Thanksgiving, those who love them roasted “Momofuku”-style—with fish sauce, lime, garlic, and chiles𠅊nd those who insist that they are best when eaten raw. I reached out to Amanda Cohen, chef-owner of New York City vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy, to get her tips on smarter Brussels sprouts techniques.

How to Buy Brussels Sprouts

Whether you buy them still attached to that long, giant stalk or you spy them loose at the farmers’ market or grocery store, look for sprouts that are “pretty, with no yellowing, and a tight bulb,” says Cohen. Consider how you’ll prepare them when it comes to what size you pick, she suggests. “I think the smaller ones𠅊lthough tiny and cute—they’re much harder to work with, and it’s a real pain to cut them.” (If you’re cooking whole small Brussels sprouts, she qualifies, no problem.) As for the stalk, though you could cut it in half and roast it to eat a small part of its edible center, “you𠆝 need a big sharp knife to get through it.” She doesn’t think it’s worth it to try to eat the stalk.

How to Store Brussels Sprouts

Store the sprouts in the fridge, and know that they’re pretty durable. Some would suggest trimming, cleaning, drying, and finally storing them in the crisper, but most suggest waiting to clean and trim the sprouts until you’re ready to use them. Cohen, who goes through two cases a day, thinks “they last in either place—if you have a lot of food in the fridge, they don’t have to be in the right spot.”

How to Prepare Brussels Sprouts

Boiled: Though 𠇋oiled” conjures for Cohen “the hideous ones everyone grew up eating—soft and mushy,” she admits that “you could do a good Brussels sprout if you wanted to,” as long as you didn’t cook it too long. She𠆝 be much more likely to steam her sprouts, lest she leach out their flavor.

Roasted: If roasting, crank up that oven. “I like to cook them long and hard,” says Cohen, for caramelization, crispy outsides, and soft insides. (Think: 400, 425 or 450 degrees.) She𠆝 salt the sprouts before and after cooking, tossing them with olive oil before they go in the oven, and perhaps adding garlic halfway through the cooking time (so it doesn’t burn). She𠆝 pass on pepper, which she doesn’t use much at the restaurant. “It’s a pretty overpowering flavor.” And unless you have a really uneven oven, you don’t need to toss the sprouts during the cooking process. “That sounds like a lot of work,” she laughs, adding, “Whenever something is evenly cooked, each piece, it’s not as interesting. All those differences are what makes the dish interesting.” Roast your sprouts till they’re “milk-chocolate brown,” she suggests.

Frying: You can fry your sprouts stovetop or in a deep fryer, and you can even reserve the leaves that fall off when you’re chopping the sprouts, frying them separately to top off your roasted or saut dish, as Cohen does. (Yum.)

Raw: Brussels sprouts can be delicious shaved thin for a salad, whether tossed with a creamy ranch or buttermilk-based dressing or combined with a red wine and olive oil, garlic and mustard vinaigrette. “It’s a lot of work but it’s fun!” says Cohen.

Saut: “I really like my Brussels sprouts simple I like them stir-fried,” says Cohen of her favorite preparation. She𠆝 heat a medium-sized pan over high heat, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, then add 2 cups of whole small of halved medium sprouts, shaking the pan frequently. Halfway through, once they’ve begun to color, she𠆝 add ginger, garlic or finely minced onions—or a combination—plus salt. “You’ll see them get that nice shiny color, with some pieces looking translucent,” she says. That’s when you add a tablespoon of water, so the sprouts steam right in the pan and cook all the way through. She𠆝 toss the finished sprouts with cilantro or parsley, plus more salt, to taste. “It’s nice to sort of expand your repertoire of vegetables that you can cook really fast!” Noted, Chef!

Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Gourmet, and Epicurious. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen.


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Guide to Fresh Herbs

A close relative to mint, basil has a floral anise- and clove-like flavor and aroma. There are two main types of basil: Sweet, or Genoese, basil and Asian basils. In Western cuisine, basil is most often associated with Mediterranean foods like pesto and tomato sauce. Sweet basil pairs naturally with tomatoes, but it can be used with almost every type of meat or seafood. Asian basil has a more distinct anise flavor and is often used in soups, stews, stir fries and curry pastes.

One of the most common and versatile herbs used in Western cooking, parsley has a light peppery flavor that complements other seasonings. It's most often used in sauces, salads and sprinkled over dishes at the end of cooking for a flash of green and a fresh taste. Flat-leaf or Italian parsley has the best texture and flavor for cooking. Curly parsley is best used only as a garnish.

Cilantro, also called coriander, has a flavor that some people find "soapy," but it's still one of the world's most popular spices. Many people are addicted to its bright refreshing flavor, and it's a staple of Latin and Asian cooking. The sweet stems and leaves are usually eaten raw, added after a dish has been cooked. The roots are used to make Thai curry pastes.

Although more commonly associated with sweet treats, mint lends its cooling, peppery bite to plenty of savory dishes, particularly from the Middle East and North Africa. Fresh mint is perfect for summer-fresh salads, to liven up a sauce and or to brew fragrant teas. The cooling flavor is also used to temper spicy curries.

A tough, woody herb with a pungent flavor, rosemary's spiky leaves can be used fresh or dried for long cooking in soups, meats, stews or sauces. Because the flavor is strong, it's best to add rosemary sparingly at first and more if needed. Fresh rosemary can be stored for about a week in the fridge either in a plastic bag or stems down in a glass of water with a plastic bag around the top.

One of the most popular herbs in American and European cooking, thyme can be paired with nearly any kind of meat, poultry, fish, or vegetable. To use fresh thyme, peel off as many of the leaves as you can from the woody stem by running your fingers along the stem. Particularly with younger thyme, some of the main stem or little offshoot stems will be pliable and come off with the leaves, which is fine. Thyme keeps for at least a week in the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a plastic bag.

Most people use dried sage once a year for their Thanksgiving stuffing, but there are many other delicious uses for this herb, particularly in dishes with pork, beans, potatoes, cheese, or in the classic sage and brown butter sauce. The flavor can be somewhat overwhelming — particularly with dried sage — so start off with a small amount and build on that. Fresh sage can add nuance and complexity to a dishes.

Chives add a flavor similar to onion without the bite. Plus, their slender tube-like appearance looks great as a garnish either snipped and sprinkled or laid elegantly across a plate. Add these delicate herbs at the very end to maximize their color and flavor. Purple chive blossoms are more pungent than the stems and can be a beautiful addition to a salad.

The feathery leaves, or fronds, of the dill plant add a pleasant anise-like flavor to seafood, soups, salads and sauces. Its subtle taste makes an excellent compliment to foods with delicate flavors like fish and shellfish, and it is commonly used in cuisine across Europe and the Middle East. Fresh dill should have a strong scent and keeps in the refrigerator for about 3 days.

Oregano, a pungent herb primarily found in Mediterranean and Mexican cuisines, is one of the few herbs that dries well, so it is easier to find dried oregano than fresh. Dried oregano can be substituted for fresh, but use half as much dried oregano as you would fresh since the flavor is more concentrated. Oregano can also be used as a substitute for its close cousin, marjoram.


If you buy fresh shrimp, use them ASAP and in the meanwhile, store them like so: Open the bag and place a paper towel over the top, place the bag on a bowl of ice, and store in the coldest part of your fridge. The shrimp should be okay to use for up to two days.

Frozen shrimp should not be allowed to thaw between buying and storing. If they didn’t already come in an air-tight bag, transfer them to one, leaving about 1/4 inch of space at the top, and keep in the freezer for three to six months.


BABY CARROTS


Although potentially misleading when applied to bagged baby carrots, the term baby refers to the carrots' size, not their age. Bagged baby carrots are made by taking long, thin carrots (usually carrot varieties grown for their high sugar and beta carotene content, which makes them sweet and bright in color) and forcing them through a carrot-trimming machine that peels the carrots and cuts them down to their ubiquitous baby size.

Real baby carrots, however, are varieties of carrots that are miniature in size when mature contrary to popular belief, they are not carrots of the standard length that are picked early. Unfortunately, most baby carrots are available only through specialty produce purveyors that sell to restaurants and other professional kitchens. If you are lucky enough to spy true, greens-still-attached, tapered baby carrots in your grocery store or farmer's market, buy them in the cooler months. Baby carrots harvested in the warmer spring and summer months tend to be less sweet and have more of a metallic, turpentine-like flavor.


RECIPE FOR MEMBERS: Roasted Carrots

Roasting carrots draws out their natural sugars and intensifies their flavor. That is if you can prevent them from shriveling up like used matches fortunately, we came up with a way to do just that.