Supermarket Savings: How to Buy Fresh Seafood

Fresh fish and seafood
Know when to buy fresh seafood and what to look for

A lot of people suggest buying from the local fish market, but you can get fresh seafood at the supermarket more conveniently and for less. We all know that eating fish is a part of healthy diet. It’s easy to prepare and readily available at your local supermarket. But it’s important to know what to look to get the best taste and insure your money is well spent.  How should it smell? Should it be shiny or matte? What should you look for if the fish is already wrapped and not on ice? Because it can be confusing, almost half of all Americans seldom eat fish at home! Here are my tips for buying fresh:

  1. The nose knows! Fresh fish has no smell at all. If you smell any fishy odor, run the other way. The area should smell fresh. If wrapped in plastic, simply press it against your nose to see if it’s odor-free. There should be no liquid in the package.
  2. When buying fillets, always look for firm texture. Anything flaky or mushy or beginning to fall apart should be avoided. Look for bright shine and never matte. Choose skin-on rather than skinless because the skin helps retain moisture when cooking.
  3. When buying whole fish, always look for clear eyes and gills. Saltwater fish may smell like the sea while freshwater fish should smell clean. Most of us avoid purchasing whole fish, but they are always the best value per pound, so don’t be lazy. Prep is pretty simple, just look online for instructions and video.
  4. If you are purchasing swordfish or tuna, look for reddish bloodlines, never brown no matter what price they are.
  5. If you are purchasing salmon, it is one of the most popular choices and you will typically see several types like wild or white. Seasons vary by variety so be careful and look for red if wild and orange if farm-raised. Again, texture if very important.
  6. To buy shrimp, shell-on is the best choice because shells-off means it is processed. Remember, cooking in the shell provides the flavor of any broth.
  7. When buying scallops, look for dry and very firm.
  8. If you’re purchasing mussels or clams, look for closed shells and use the nose test here.
  9. Tilapia is a real value purchase for the budget shopper, but remember to look for red bloodlines.
  10. Haddock is the perfect choice for baking and takes on other flavors well when cooking. Look for white color and flakiness.
  11. Always have your fresh fish wrapped well and with crushed ice to keep it cold!
  12. When looking for shellfish like lobster or crab, buy live to insure the freshness.
  13. Ask your grocer what day the fresh seafood arrives in the store so you know when to shop.

Still getting fresh seafood on a budget can be a challenge. Here are some tips to save money:

  • Frozen is often just as good as “fresh” and can cost 40% less. If you don’t need it for tonight’s dinner, consider buying frozen. After all, “fresh” seafood can be frozen while on the boat or stored on ice during transport.
  • Salmon, tuna, and halibut cost more because they are popular choices and aren’t always available year round. Try some different types of fish and save. If you enjoy white fish, try whiting or pollock. If you like oily varieties, consider mackerel. Or ask the seafood manager for recommendations and look on the web for new recipes to try.
  • Some types of seafood are bargains when canned. Try clams, salmon or tuna for your recipes.
  • Sometimes buying something similar, but less expensive, will work just as well in your recipes. For example, try salad shrimp for shrimp tacos or appetizers.  Or try surimi (imitation crab meat) in a seafood quiche.
  • Mixed bags of frozen seafood are great for paella or stew.
  • When buying smoked salmon, buy the trim (the odds and ends left over) which can be half the cost of regular smoked salmon.
  • Don’t buy just because an item’s on sale, but take the opportunity to buy what you need when the prices are reduced. Buy often to insure freshness, or plan to buy frozen.

Fresh seafood choices (or even frozen or canned) allow creativity as well as a touch of gourmet to round out your weekly menu. Consider whiting, porgy, fluke or flounder, and others for a great variety.

Bonus tip: Know your portions. A 6 ounce fish fillet is about the size of a can of tuna when raw. When cooked it will weigh about 4.5 ounces. Allow 12 ounces per portion uncooked for whole fish, 10 ounces for raw-dressed (headless), and 8 ounces for bone-in fish steaks.

What are some of your favorite types of seafood?

Image courtesy of Marx Ilagan at freeimages.com

2 Comments

  1. Jason @ Phroogal

    I’ve found buying seafood at a local farmers market as opposed to the supermarket actually is cheaper. Great tips btw! I also do mix it up between fresh and frozen.

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