Do you know what to look for to get the best, freshest fish at the market? Hiro Yuki, Executive Chef at sushi restaurant Q in downtown Los Angeles, offers some tips for home cooks based on nearly three decades of experience as a leading sushi chef in both Japan and California.
- How does it look? The easiest way to determine the freshness of a fish is by its appearance. Fresh fish have crisp and sharp outlines. It takes practice to determine the difference, but when you put the fresh fish next to one that is not, the difference is very obvious.
- Eye to eye. The eyes of fresh fish are very clear. In Japan, there is an old saying: “A bad fish can be determined by looking at its eyes.” When the fish ages, the eyes become dull.
- Inhale. Even the freshest fish will have a somewhat “fishy” smell, and some varieties smell stronger than others. The longer the fish is out of the water the more the “fishy odor” amplifies, which is caused by microscopic organisms in the blood. So when comparing two fish of the same variety, choose the mildest smell.
- Know thy fishmonger. The most important thing when I go to the fish market to purchase fish for Q is to maintain a good relationship with the representative at the fish market. The information you can obtain from having that trust is very valuable. At Q, more than half of the fish are from Japan. Other main fish, such as tuna, comes from Spain. Because many of the fish get shipped from outside of the U.S., it is crucial to get information from the sales rep two or three days in advance to know what type of fresh fish are available and to decide what to buy, rather than waiting until the morning of the purchase.
- Shop smart. The same thing can be said when it comes to buying fish at grocery stores. When grocery stores carry fish that look good it means they know how to clean and treat the fish. A fish department that smells fresh means they clean the fish when they receive it, which helps maintain freshness.
- Stay dry. Steer clear of pre-cut and packaged fish where the fluids are visible. More fluids means the fish is less fresh, meaning it’s less likely the store did a good job with quality control.
- Keep it clean. Avoid purchasing fish from markets that do not keep their sales space and work areas clean. If the staff can’t keep the market clean, it’s likely they’re not taking good care of their products.
- Buy only what you need… Purchasing fish in bulk and keeping it in the freezer is not the best way to maintain flavor. Defrosting takes moisture out of the fish and reduces vibrancy of the flavor.
- …but if you must shop in advance, wrap it well. If you do buy packaged fish pre-cut for convenience, take the fish out of the package immediately and wrap it in a paper towel. Then rewrap and refrigerate.
- Plan ahead. It’s important to decide how you are preparing the fish prior to buying them. Sashimi, grilled or fried: How you’re eating the fish will affect what you look for when you shop. Especially for sashimi – you have to be careful about the freshness of the fish, but sanitary control also becomes an important factor because you won’t be killing bacteria or other contaminants by cooking.
Taste Chef Hiro’s fresh fish at Q, 521 W. 7th Street, Los Angeles 90014; 213-261-3479.