Selecting, Buying and Cooking Fish

In a previous article, I talked about the benefits of incorporating fish and seafood into your diet.  The health benefits of eating fish and seafood twice a week are well researched but some people may still hesitate simply because they are not sure of what type of fish to buy, how to select, or even cook it.  The good news is that the whole process is easier than you think when armed with a few helpful tips that I am going to share with you.

Selecting Your Catch

Fortunately for us seafood lovers, there is a variety of options.  Some are healthier for us than others with regard to concerns of mercury, PCBs, and other carcinogens, as we discussed in the last article.  High on the list of good seafood choices are flounder, haddock, shrimp, scallops, farm-raised trout, and catfish. Light tunas, such as skipjack, blue fin, yellow fin, and tongol can also be eaten in moderation each week, as can salmon.

This is not an exhaustive list, but if you want a great way to be able to identify which fish and seafood products are while in the supermarket, consider checking out a great phone application from the Blue Ocean Organization (  This non-profit group produces a free cell phone application that ranks over 100 edible fish and seafood items using a color scale to rate them from green (ecofriendliest and healthiest) to red (containing high levels of mercury, PCBs, and other carcinogens).  The application is updated twice a year so it’s current and definitely convenient when standing at the supermarket counter trying to decide which seafood item is best for you.


Hands down, the best fish and seafood are fresh.  It is best when in the season because it is plentiful and generally cheaper too.  Regrettably, it is sometimes hard to determine just how fresh some seafood is as it could be anywhere from one day up to two weeks out of water.  That makes knowing (and trusting) the source of your seafood all the more important so be sure to only purchase seafood from a reputable vendor. 

If you live near the water and have access to local fish markets, then scoring fresh fish is a lot easier.  Fish market vendors should know their catch and can tell you exactly where it came from and how long it has been there.  If you are buying from a supermarket and they can’t tell you when they got that item in, how long it has been on ice, or even where it was caught, then walk away.  Never be afraid to ask these questions!

Do not buy any seafood that is more than a couple of days old.  Fish and seafood should be firm to the touch and spring back when touched.  Above all, it should not have any strong odors or ironically have a strong fish smell.  Fresh seafood should have that “fresh sea” aroma.

Fresh fish isn’t always an option and if it’s not, have no fear because there is another option.  “Frozen at Sea” (FAS) refers to fish and seafood that has been flash frozen at extremely low temperatures quickly, often shortly after it has been caught, right on the ship.  When thawed, most people can’t tell the difference between FAS and fresh.  Seafood that has undergone the FAS process will have that right on the label so read the packaging.  Thanks to the USDA, the packaging will also tell you if the product is wild-caught or farm-raised, and the country of origin.


Fish and seafood tend to deteriorate quicker than most meats so it’s important that you plan on cooking your purchases, if fresh, within 24 hours.  Prior to cooking be sure to keep your catch in the coldest part of the refrigerator and rinse thoroughly with cold water before cooking.

The easiest pieces of fish to prepare to tend to come in fillet and steak form.  These pieces are ready to cook and are already portion sized.  There is a host of options for cooking your fare, and it will likely depend on your preference and the item you are cooking.  In the case of fish, you have multiple options ranging from pan-frying to baking and from steaming to grilling.

I’ll leave you one bit of advice when cooking fish.  A common cooking mistake is to cook fish until it “flakes.”  Don’t do it.  Fish that have gotten to the point of flaking is usually dry and overcooked by the time it reaches that state.  Instead, remember that fish is fully cooked when the color turns from translucent to opaque (usually white).  If you can’t tell when that is, then pull out the old trusty meat thermometer.  Fish is done when the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.