Fish are in such high demand today because we know the health benefits they provide. There are so many kinds of fish depending on the region you live in, I am not going to try to touch them all. Instead we will focus on basic terminology and those fish that everyone can find in their local store or fishing hole. Not only do consumers need to be aware of what they are purchasing at the store, but restaurants have picked up much of the terminology and put it on their menus.
Farm Raised The process of raising fish commercially in tanks or enclosures to be released into the wild or served as food. Fish that were raised in hatcheries and released to the wild live their life in various lakes, rivers and streams to procreate or be caught by fishermen. Some are transferred to cages placed in rivers, lakes and the ocean until they are large enough to sell. One of the biggest concerns with cage fishing is when fish escape in an area that is not their natural habitat and therefore have no natural predators. The most common cultured fish are catfish, salmon, carp, tilapia, European seabass and cod.
Organic how do you label a wild animal as organic? That is the question that causes controversy in the use of this label. Fish which are vegetarians can easily have their diets controlled. Carnivores however eat other fish which itself cannot be labeled organic. In 2008, the US National Organic Standards Board allowed farmed fish to be labeled as organic provided less than 25% of their feed came from wild fish.
Sustainable Sustainable fish or seafood was either fished or farmed from sources that can maintain or increase production in the future without jeopardizing the ecosystems from which it was acquired. Slow growing fish (such as orange roughy) are at most risk of being overfished. Overfishing puts species at risk of being placed on the endangered list or eventually to become extinct.
There are ways to find out if the fish you buy is sustainable. Some companies promote it on their websites. The Blue Ocean Institute has created a flier you can tuck into your shopping bag that labels fish by its sustainability. Store chains have begun to use this system so you may see the codes in your local store.
Seafood is any marine life regarded as food by humans. This includes fish, molluscs (octopus and shellfish), crustaceans (shrimp and lobster), echinoderms (sea cucumber and sea urchins) as well as edible sea plants, such as some seaweeds and micro algae.
Fresh If you are going to buy fish you certainly expect it to be edible. To determine if a fish is fresh you first need to smell it. There should not be a strong fish odor and seafood should smell of the ocean. Eyes should be clear and be slightly bulgy. Herring is an exception to that rule as their eyes should be red. The flesh should be firm with a slight sheen to it. If the meat is separating from itself (flaking), it is old. The gills should be a bright pink or red and slightly wet without being slimy. Check the labels, if the fish was previously frozen the label must state so. This means the store received the fish frozen and then packaged and allowed the fish to thaw.
Smoked Smoking was done to cure the meat in order to preserve it for consumption later on. As time passed, recipes and techniques were developed to create depth of flavor as well. The traditional method requires fish being suspended in a smokehouse and thus infused with the natural smoke of the kindling. Modern methods create smoke condensates which is a liquid smoke. This requires much less time to complete the process.
“Hot-smoking (also called barbecuing or kippering) requires a short brining time and smoking temperatures of 90°F for the first 2 hours and 150°F for an additional 4-8 hours. Hot-smoked fish are moist, lightly salted, and fully cooked, but they will keep in the refrigerator for only a few days.
Cold-smoking requires a longer brining time, lower temperature (80-90°F) and extended smoking time (1-5 days or more of steady smoking). Cold-smoked fish contain more salt and less moisture than hot-smoked fish. If the fish has been sufficiently cured, it will keep in the refrigerator for several months.” (1)In the USA cold smoked fish are raw and need to be cooked before serving. Cold smoked salmon is referred to as lox. Herring that has been salted and smoked are referred to as kippers
Storage Once frozen fish has been thawed, it should not be refrozen. Fresh fish should be kept on ice. The best way to do this is to fill container A with ice and place container B on top that holds the fish. This is needed because the water fish swim in is colder than air and the refrigerator cannot keep the meat cold enough to keep it from rotting. A second option is to place an ice pack under the fish instead of the ice.
If you caught the fish it will last about 10 days this way. Store bought is only good for a few days! Oily fish such as salmon, trout or sturgeon lose a few days automatically. Exceptionally oil fish such as herring, sardine or bluefish should be eaten immediately.
Freezing Fish freezes quite well if done properly up to 6 months. First and foremost it must not touch air. All fish should be wrapped tightly before being placed into the freezer. Glazed fish means it has been frozen in ice to prevent this. I am not a fan of this method as I feel it often produces mushy fish once thawed.
Cooking The 10 minute rule has the cook measure the fish at its widest point. Cook fresh fish 10 minutes for each inch (20 minutes for frozen). This assumes you are cooking a filet. Cooking a whole fish takes longer. Check by pressing on the thickest part of the fish, do not cut it open!
Poached Fish that has been simmered in a liquid
Fried Fish can be pan-fried or deep-fried. If the oil is at the correct temperature the fish should not absorb very much oil. Breaded fish requires more oil in the pan than unbreaded.
Baked Most fish will dry out if baked by itself. You will need a little liquid even if it is simply oil or lemon juice and covered with tin foil. Fish baked in packets cook in their own juices and become very tender. The added benefit is you can enclose vegetables with the fish and cook everything at once. Salted fish requires the fish be cleaned and covered with a mixture of salt and beaten egg whites. The fish bakes within the “crust” and contrary to how it sounds, does not come out tasting like a salt lick.
Sushi Not all sushi uses raw fish. Sometimes it is also smoked or pickled. Western sushi has created a variety of combinations so if you are not familiar with a name, ask what is in it.
Pacific vs Atlantic Salmon In the great salmon wars, people tend to take 1 side and will only eat one or the other. So is there really a difference? The Atlantic salmon is restricted to 1 species. The Pacific salmon encompasses the Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink, Sockeye, Steelhead, Masau and Biwa. Both Pacific and Atlantic spend about 5 years in the ocean before returning to the lakes to spawn. Pacific salmon only spawn once, while Atlantic salmon can do so repeatedly. How much this affects the taste of the meat is up to you to decide.