Fish and shellfish make terrific entrees as well as delectable appetizers, soups, and salads. Not only are they delicious foods, but they are nutritious foods as well since they are high in protein and low in saturated fats. Some seafood, such as clams, oysters, and shrimp, are good sources of iron and most seafood is high in calcium.

As with any fresh food, there are some important things to be considered when buying fish and shellfish. I will provide hints for buying, handling, storing fish and other seafood that will make creating terrific meals easy.

The most important thing to look for when purchasing fish is freshness. Appearance and odor are the best clues to freshness. Fresh fish have tight, shiny scales, skin that springs back when pressed, and a mild odor. Whole fish should have clear eyes and the gills should be anywhere in color from pink to red. If you are unsure about the freshness of a fish, place it in a bowl or pot of cold water. If the fish is fresh, it will float.

Fish can also be purchased frozen. Make sure that the package is solidly frozen and that the fish contains no signs of discoloration, oiliness, or freezer burn. If there is any doubt as to the freshness of the seafood it is best not to buy it.

Fish is sold in a variety of forms. It may be purchased whole or dressed, which means cleaned and scaled with the head, tail, and fins removed. Fish can purchased in fillets, when the sides of the fish have been cut lengthwise away from the ribs, and the backbone, and they even come as steaks. Fish steaks are actually cross-sections of large fish. Let your fish seller know what type of dish you are planning and he or she will prepare the fish properly.

Fish differ in meat color and flavor. Some recipes list a specific fish or shellfish as an ingredient, yet others simply specify the use of white-fish fillets. This opens a number of options and allows for the selection of a favorite fish. Fish with white meat that would work well in recipes specifying white fish fillets would be cod, flounder, haddock, hake, halibut, red snapper, sea trout, turbot, whiting, whitefish, catfish, and butterfish.

Prepare fresh fish for cooking by washing it thoroughly in cold running water then patting it dry with paper towels. If it still has scales, scrape them off with a sharp knife.

Frozen fish should be thawed in the refrigerator until the pieces can be separated. Never thaw at room temperature.

It’s very important to check for freshness when buying shellfish. If fresh clams, and oysters are bought in the shells, the shells should be tightly closed. Discard any with open or broken shells as well as the ones that float. If purchased already opened, should be plump and creamy in color.

To test, mussels for freshness, try to slide the two halves of the shell across each other; they shouldn’t budge.

Fresh shrimp, and scallops should be dry and firm.

When purchasing live lobsters or crabs, be sure to select the most active of the group.

Prepare fresh clams for cooking by scrubbing them with a stiff brush. Then wash them in several changes of cold water to remove sand. If the clams are very sandy, they can be soaked in cold water for 30 minutes.

Mussels should also be scrubbed with a stiff brush and washed under cold running water. Additionally, mussels have beards which are usually clipped off before cooking.

Fresh shrimp should be deveined. This can be done before or after cooking, depending on the recipe and personal tastes. If using canned shrimp, rinse them briefly in cold water to remove excess salt.

Fresh or canned crabmeat should be picked over to remove any shell or cartilage.

Shellfish can be purchased fresh, frozen, previously frozen, canned, or pasteurized. Many varieties of shellfish come already cooked. Keep in mind, however, that shellfish tastes best when it is fresh and prepared and eaten right away.

Fish and shellfish are perishable. They can be stored in their wrappers in the coldest part of the refrigerator for no longer than 1 or 2 days. Live shellfish should be stored in a shallow dish and covered with a damp towel. For longer storage, wrap seafood tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper or in foil and freeze it.

Leftover cooked seafood should be refrigerated or frozen immediately in a tightly closed container. When properly covered, cooked seafood can be refrigerated for 3 or 4 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

After handling raw fish or shellfish, be sure to wash your hands with hot, soapy water. Never reuse a plate that held raw seafood without washing it first and thoroughly wash any utensils or cutting boards that come in contact with raw seafood as well.


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