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The term fresh fish will mean different things to different people and different cultures.

  • To many people fresh simply means not frozen.
  • To others it means at its peak.
  • To the Japanese it means less than a day old, as in less than 24 hours after it was caught. This is often referred to as being sashimi quality. However for it to be truly of sashimi quality it must have been caught, killed, gutted and stored in a certain way before sale.
  • To a professional chef it will usually (and hopefully) mean being served within three days of being caught.

Fresh? There are so many factors that determine fresh when it comes to fish.

  • Fish should always be gutted and gilled as soon as it is caught, so any bacteria held in these areas cannot permeate into the flesh as it breaks down (it also ensures a better flavour and aroma).
  • A fish may be only two days old but if it is has not been stored correctly it might as well be two weeks old! Experts agree that for every hour a freshly caught fish is not stored on ice, it loses one day of shelf life. So a fish not chilled for four hours is equivalent in quality to a five day old fish that has been kept on ice.
  • If a fish is stored correctly (kept on ice) from the time it is caught, it has a useable life of up to ten days. However this is rarely the case and one should use the fish of course as soon as possible. Besides the fact that it tastes so much better, you must also remember the health benefits and staying safe from food poisoning.
  • How to tell how fresh fish is? With filleted fish it can be very difficult, one must rely on your sense of smell and touch.
  • When lightly pressed the flesh of fresh fish should be quite resilient and bounce back, the older it gets the more likely it is that the indent will remain or slowly bounce back.
  • It should of course smell fresh, the more it smells like fish the older it is. The fresher it is the less unpleasant aroma there will be.
  • The above presumes you are allowed to smell and touch prior to purchase otherwise you must rely on the supplier and maybe the use by date if packaged.
  • For whole fish look for:
  • a pleasant aroma (someone once wrote that, fish should smell of the sea, be briny in aroma . . . by the time it smells of fish it is too late).
  • flesh that is resilient
  • plentiful scales that are not dried up
  • the body being covered in sea slime
  • bright, bulging eyes
  • the gills should be bright and / or red and free from any yeasty aroma and slime (slime in the gills is usually a bacterial slime - not good)

The older the fish, the lower the quality, the less the above will apply. For example all other signs might be present but:

  • The eyes might be slightly sunken - indicating the fish is fresh but not the freshest.

  • No sea slime on the body can indicate that its is very fresh but it may be that it has just been handled with a cloth and wiped off.

What it all comes down to is using your own judgement, relying on your senses (including common sense) and what are you buying the fish for.

  • If its for sashimi (see below) it must be almost alive!

  • If it is for poaching it must be fresh, fresh.

  • If it is for frying, bbq, etc then as long as the fish smells all right it probably is and will taste fine.

I mentioned above about sashimi quality. Sashimi quality fish means it is so fresh it is suitable for serving raw. Sashimi basically being a Japanese dish of paper thin slices of raw fish or other seafoods, ornately presented and served with dipping sauces.

Sushi on the other hand is entirely different. Sushi is essentially a dish of cold cooked rice. The most common variety most people know is Maki zushi or Californian roll - cooked rice, rolled into a tube shape, wrapped in nori (a toasted, processed, flat sheet of seaweed) that will include many other ingredients such as meats, seafoods, vegetables, etc that may be cooked, raw or a combination of both, served with a dipping sauce. There is also Nigiri sushi which is known as a la carte sushi or sometimes hand made sushi which is rice made into a small rugby ball shape and foods dressed over the top

Food safety
I cannot stress enough though that even fish straight out of the sea does NOT guarantee against food poisoning! If the fish contains certain pathogens (food poisoning bacteria) or if it has been feeding near sewerage outlets (and many fish do) then even cooking them is still likely to give you a bit of a stomach upset. All you can do, like anything in life, is to stay as safe as possible.


  • No specific recipe

Food and Cooking Tips
from professional
Chef Tallyrand


Born and raised in Plymouth, Tallyrand started his initial training as a chef at Plymouth College of Further Education. It was here that he was to learn his love, his passion for food and the culinary arts. From here he headed to Germany to complete his apprenticeship as Commis de Gardemanger.

Germany gave him his first taste of cooking for the rich and famous, as half way through his first year, along with the Sous Chef and a Chef de Partie, he was whisked off to Cologne to help prepare meals for a political conference, where amongst other dignitaries they cooked for Mr Brehznev, the then powerful Russian leader. This was to prove to be just one of the many celebrities he was to cook for or get to know over the years . . .

If you would like to find out more why not visit Tallyrand's own web site (link in main menu)

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