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I love fish, and I love cooking it. The thing is, I don't have any idea how to buy fish.

Considering common fish in a grocery store (salmon, whitefish, tuna, grouper, etc.), how can I tell a good specimen from a bad one? When the difference is not clear, which way should I err?

Is there any different set of criteria, when I'm buying fish at an outdoor market?

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I guess I was thinking filets, but I should be able to expect that they could filet it for me, yes? – Andres Jaan Tack Jul 10 '10 at 17:08
Indeed. A good fish monger will fillet the fish for you, Just use the guidelines below to pick your fish. – Pulse Jul 10 '10 at 17:18
up vote 20 down vote accepted

As a rule of thumb for a whole fish, and not a fillet -

  • the gills should be bright red
  • the skin/scales should be bright and shiny like metal
  • this fish shouldn't really smell of anything except 'watery'
  • the flesh should rebound quickly when pressed
  • the eyes should be bright and clear
  • really fresh fish is also quite slimey to touch if it's straight out of the water. I remember being quite surprised at this from my first fishing trip a few years back.
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If you can and if you like fish don't buy your fish at a common grocery store (unless you buy frozen). The places nearby where I live all smell fishy and that's not a good sign. Of course you don't want to be driving for hours, but if you can find a place known for selling fish and with plenty of customers, chances are that the fish will be fresher.

For a fillet, really your only hint is whether it just smells at most like the flavor of the fish and not fishy.

Other than that, follow the advice on other answers.

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Thanks for the tip. This will really help! :) – Andres Jaan Tack Jul 11 '10 at 12:06
Be it fish, beef, fruit, whatever. You will always get better somewhere that sells a lot because they go through their stock faster, so you will get fresher items (and of course, they wouldn't sell as much if it wasn't any good). – ManiacZX Aug 2 '10 at 8:48

A few tips. Look at the eyes first, they should be clear and convex (a slight outward direction). If the eyes are cloudy, walk away. Also look at the gills, they should be bright red, not a dark brick red. Finally, smell it. It should smell clean or a little briny, anything else is suspect.

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