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Salt Sear Savor

🐟 “Fresh” vs Frozen? Pick frozen.

published8 months ago
3 min read

Do you live near the ocean? Lucky you. I do not. Here in Colorado, I couldn’t even drive to an ocean within the day if I wanted to.

So think about it. When I’m standing at the fish counter at the grocery store, how fresh could that salmon possibly be? It could have been caught yesterday and flown in this morning! Maybe. But probably not.

How Fresh is “Fresh” Fish?

There are loads of reasons fish can take a while to end up on a grocery store shelf:

  • Boats spend days at sea before they bring their haul in.
  • The fish have to be processed before being sent out.
  • It’s got to be driven across the state or flown across the country.
  • It’s got to be unpacked, checked, recorded, and prepped before it goes on display.
  • Then it sits there until you buy it.

As you can imagine, all of that takes time. A whole week could have passed since your cod has been in the water. So yeah, it’s probably not that fresh. 😣

This whole process also increases the chance fish goes bad by the time it arrives at the grocery store.

So guess how they prevent fish from going bad? They freeze it!

Most “fresh” fish is actually frozen and then thawed when it arrives in store. Grocers do that since they know consumers prefer buying “fresh”.

The unfortunate part is that while some stores will add “previously frozen” to the label—albeit in small print—others won’t. So you might not even know it when you buy it.

Buy Frozen Fish Instead

If you live near an ocean, have a reputable dealer (I prefer dealer to fishmonger 😉), or are an avid freshwater fisher, you can definitely get some truly fresh fish!

For the rest of us, let me o-fish-ally say it. 🥁

I recommend buying frozen.

When you buy fish already frozen, you can trust it was frozen at peak freshness. Often, right on the boat or at the fish farm. That’s right! We live in a wonderful world where fishing companies have the ability (and technology) to prep and freeze fish while they’re still at sea. Pretty cool, right?

Let me pull in a quote from Gavin Gibbons from the National Fisheries Institute, “The clock never moves backward when it comes to freshness. If a fish is caught, handled well, and frozen immediately, you literally stop the clock. You freeze in the freshness.”

So why do frozen fish get a bad rap?

Probably because the importance of freshness has been drilled into us as cooks. And it’s a good thing. But it’s also made us allergic to anything that isn’t clearly fresh, especially when we don’t have all the info.

Also, frozen fish in the past wasn’t that great. Freezers back then weren’t as powerful as the industrial ones we have today. They froze fish at a slower rate. This increased the amount of ice crystal formation which impacted the texture of the fish, often turning it mushy.

Home freezers today aren’t that powerful either. If you can avoid it, try not to freeze fish yourself. Leave it up to the professionals who have a powerful blast freezer.

Reasons to Buy Frozen Fish

Let’s change the perception!

  • It’s often higher quality and fresher than “fresh” fish at the grocery store.
  • It’s cheaper! Frozen fish is easier to transport and less likely to go bad. So grocery stores can sell it for less. Speaking of that…
  • It’s less wasteful. Fish has a short shelf life. That means fresh fish is more likely to get thrown out when it doesn’t sell.
  • It’s environmentally friendly. Frozen fish doesn’t have to be flown in. It can be driven or put on a train.

How to Buy Frozen Fish

Just like anything, there is low-quality frozen fish out there. When choosing it at the grocery store, lean on the packaging:

  • Look at the method and the brand. And do your research on them to make sure they’re catching and freezing the fish properly.
  • Look for separate fish fillets, individually wrapped, and ideally vacuumed-sealed. One big chunk of fish stuck together can mean they were not frozen individually, or they were partially thawed at some point in transit.
  • Make sure there are no additives!
  • Look for signs of freezer burn (aka ice crystals) on the fish. They can indicate it was partially unthawed at one point or that it’s been frozen a long time.

Or don’t buy fish at the grocery store. Go online. There you can find high-quality, sustainable fish from small-scale fishers. Check out companies like Sitka Salmon Shares, Sea To Table, and Wild Alaskan Company. I’ve not tried them myself yet, but I’ve heard good things.

Where I learned this: Reading The Science of Cooking was the first time considered buying more frozen fish! Then it got reinforced by articles on Epicurious and The Spruce Eats.

I hope I convinced you to take a stroll down the frozen aisle the next time you’re buying fish. If anything, at least you’re a more so-fish-ticated buyer now. 😉

Have a great week everyone!

Luciano 👨‍🍳

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