Fish is fresh when… … it looks still alive … its eyes are clear and shiny … its gills are bright pinky-red, moist and bright … the skin is shiny and wet-looking … scales are more or less in place, flat and close to the body … its smell is pleasant, not too strong, sickly or bitter … the flesh is cold, slimy and firm
Fish remains fresh if… … kept at 0°C, always on ice … vacuum sealed and kept cold … kept in the fridge for no more than one day
Pre-packed and frozen fish is good when… … the outer packaging is not frosty … the inside of the package does not present ice crystals … the flesh does not present any freezer burn (which change the colour and texture of the fish)
Seafood is fresh when… … shrimps and prawns: if raw, the flesh is translucent and shiny … oysters, mussels, scallops and clams: the shells look clean and unbroken, tightly closed … lobsters and crabs: look lively and still swimming in water … frozen seafood: there is no frost on the outer package, nor crystals inside, nor freezer burns on the flesh
… about preparation
Fins and scales. Trim off the fins using kitchen scissors. To descale, use a discaler, a spoon or a blunt knife. Hold the fish by the tail and rub the edge of the discaler from the tail end towards the head, scraping the scales away. Give the fish a rinse under cold running water. Do not descale fillets. If you are going to barbecue the whole fish, do not descale it, because the scales are protecting the flesh as it cooks.
Cleaning and filleting. First you need a filleting knife, sharp and flexible. Round fish: - to remove the guts, insert the knife in the anal vent, cutting towards the head with a single movement; scrape out the guts and discard them; remove any organs and blood scraping gently - remove the gills with a pair of sturdy scissors, if you want to mantain the head - to cut off the head, make a cut behing the gill opening, cutting through the backbone - rinse under cold running water and dry with kitchen paper - make a cut along one side of the backbone, deepen it with single strokes until you can use your thumb to part the flesh from the bone - continue with long shallow cuts until the fillet is free - turn the fish over and repeat Flat fish: - cut the soft side of the fish from the head to the centre, following the line of the gills - bend the head back and twist it to discard the guts - rinse under cold running water and dry with kitchen paper - make a C-shaped cut behind the gills, then cut along a lateral line visible along the backbone, till the tail, and chop it off - run the knife (flat) along the backbone from the head to the outer edge with long strokes, until the fillet comes away - repeat for the other three fillets - trim any fins off, rinse under cold running water and dry with kitchen paper
Pin bones. Lay the fillet on a chopping board, skin side down, and run your fingers along the mid line; catch any bones you feel with a pair of tweezers.
Skin. Place the fillet skin side up; make a small cut at the tail, inserting the knife between the skin and the flesh; grip the skin and flatten the blade under the flesh; pull back on the skin, making broad sweeping cuts with the knife.
Langoustines and crayfish. Twist off the head and pull off the legs. Slip your thumb under the shell to remove it. slice along the back and tease out the digestive canal.
Crabs and lobsters. Freeze the animal for a couple of hours, then kill it by stabbing. Make sure the claws are secured. Place the crab on its back, lift the flap at the back underside of the crab and force a screwdriver into the centre of theconical indentation. Immediately repeat the process through the mouth of the crab, betwwen the eyes. Place the animal on its frontand plunge a large knife into the thorax (top part of the shell), push the knife down and divide the head in two.
Mussels and clams. Discard any fish with cracked shells or whose sheels remain open when tapped. Scrub or crape the shells to remove any barnacles or seaweed. remove any beards or byssal threads by grabbing and tugging them off.
Oysters. You need to protect yourself with an apron. You also need a good oyster knife, blunt and short. Insert it in the tiny gap on the hinge and twist the knife to open the shell. Prise the shell apart and scrape the flesh from the top shell. Run the knife underneath the oyster to cut it free.
Scallops. You need an oyster knife and a filleting knife. Insert the oyster knife through the hinge and twist to open the shell. Insert the filleting knife and slide it along the flat side of the shell to detach the flesh. Open the shell and remove the flesh, discarding the stomach, to obtain a disc of white flesh and a curved coral.
Cuttlefish and squid. Hold both the head end and the body and twist and pull, to remove the head. The guts (ink sac included) comes out attached to the head. In cuttlefish there is a chalky white structure you need to eliminate. Make sure you pulled out any innards. Cut the tentacles away, one by one or by cutting off the front of the head. You also nead to remove the hard beak with your thumb. Remove the purpish skin by making a small incision at the fin end and pulling it away, then turn the body inside out.
Octopus. Cut the membrane that joins the body and the tentacles, separating the tentacles. Turn the head inside out and remove the innards. Remove the beak with a little pressure. Turn the head back. Remove the skin, cut out the eyes and clean the tentacles in cold water.
Always remember that fish cooks quickly. Generally, fish is cooked when its flesh is opaque. Never leave fish cooking without checking it regularly. Test by gently inserting the tip of a knife into the thickest part of the fish so that you can see if the flesh is opaque and the flakes separate.
Grilling. This method is ideal for any fish or fillet more than 2-3cm thick. Always make sure that the grill is really clean, to prevent the fish from sticking. A palette knife is useful for turning the fish. Make cuts into the flesh: it allows the heat to get quickly into the centre of the fish and also caramelises the cut edges for added flavour. Heat the grill to high. Brush the fillets with oil or melted butter, season with a little salt and pepper. Place it not to close to the heat source and cook for about 4 minutes (it dependes on how thick the fillets are). Carefully turn the fish and cook for 2-3 minutes on the other side. If you cook Whole fish, look inside the cavity to make sure it is ready. Leave it rest on a warmed plate for a few minutes before serving.
Frying. Shallow frying is perfect for small fish, quick and easy. Dip each fillet or small fish in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat two tbsp of oil in a frying pan and put the fillet in hot oil, skin side down. Fry over a high heat for about 3 minutes. Do not put too much fish in the pan, it reduces the temperature. Turn the fish over and cook for 3 more minutes. Do not overcook it. Deep frying is suitable for small fish or larger fish cut into pieces, squid and prawns, previously coated in seasoned flour or batter.
Poaching. You can poach fish in almost any liquid (cider, wine, milk, water…), and the liquor produced can be the base for a sauce to serve with the fish. Never overcook the fish: simmer it gently, never let it boil. Place the fish in the liquid you chose, cover it and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer very gently for 4-8 minutes. Remove the fish from the liquor and drain it. Keep the liquor to make a sauce.
Steaming. This is the healtiest way to cook fish, because it is completely fat-free. Bring the water to the boil, put the fish in the steamer basket on top and stem for 4-8 minutes. You can add herbs (chives, star aise, sliced ginger or lemongrass) to the steming liquid or sprinkle them over the fish. Mussels and clams are steamed in a large pan over a high heat, covered, adding a splash of cider or wine, together with finely chopped onion or shallot, to the liquid.
Roasting. This method is perfect for meaty fish. Preheat the oven to 200°C and brush the fish with oil. Place it on a baking sheet and cook for 8-12 minutes. To give extra flavour, fry the skin before roasting. You can also add other ingredients, such as tomatoes, peppers and potatoes.
Baking in foil. Wrap the fish in a foil of greaseproof paper parcel (or in a banana leaf, why not!), seasoning with salt and pepper. Do not add any liquid. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Place the parcels and cook for 15-20 minutes. You can also add a glug of olive oil or a knob of butter, a sprig of parsley of dill or a slice of lemon on top of the fish, befor closing the parcels.