(Jim Oswalt is the owner of Gemini Fish Market in Issaquah Washington)
I had an incident recently in which I didn’t practice what I preach and the result was catastrophic. Not only did I destroy a bag of beautiful and limited spot prawns, but it took days to get the funk out of our house.
Fresh wild seafood is delicious and expensive, so to mess it up because some simple handling steps were missed is a horrible shame – a hit to the pocketbook as well as the taste buds. And it’s easily preventable.
I like to eat fish and seafood the day of purchase. We guarantee almost everything you get at Gemini for at least three days if it is properly handled. Any longer than three days and you are taking chances because most home fridges don’t hold the cold sufficiently.
Here are some tips on the best ways to treat and hold your seafood until consumption. All this assumes, of course, you are buying top quality fresh fish.
FINFISH (whole or fillets) –
Always take the fish out of the packaging as soon as you get it home, unless you are going to use it in no more than a few hours. Give it a quick rinse in cold water and lay it out flat on a plate or a cookie sheet. Cover it lightly with plastic wrap, or something of that nature. Don’t keep the fish wrapped tightly. Leave it loose and give it some room to breathe. Place it in the coldest area of your fridge, usually the bottom, or in a meat keeper drawer.
SHELLFISH (shrimp, crab, lobster tails, etc.) –
Follow the same steps as with the finfish, but avoid the rinse for already cooked product; it can mess with the texture and flavor. Put the fish in a bowl and loosely cover it. Again, put it in the coldest part of the fridge.
LIVE SHELLFISH (clams, mussels, oysters, etc.) –
These are exceptions to the three-day rule, especially in the summer months. These should be consumed the day of purchase. At this time of year, they are very weak and if you hang onto them you most likely will lose them. If you must hold them for a day or two, buy extra and plan for some loss. In the winter months they can hold for a couple of days. Best way to hold these is to put them in a colander on a plate or in a bowl so they can drain. Cover them with damp paper towels and maybe throw a couple of ice cubes on top of the towels. You want to keep the air off them, but you don’t want them stored air tight. And you want them to drain. Shellfish purge liquid from their shells and will suck it back up. This can give them an off flavor.
LIVE CRAB, LOBSTER, CRAWFISH, etc. –
I suggest these always be eaten the day of purchase, or have your fish monger split and clean them. You’re always taking chances if you try to hold these babies alive, and at the price of crab and lobster you don’t want to take that chance. When you get these guys home, leave them in the packaging we provide, usually barrel bags. Throw some damp paper towels on them and leave them in the bottom of your fridge until you get into them that night.
FROZEN SEAFOOD –
If you are keeping frozen seafood for any length of time it’s best if it’s vac-packed, especially fillets or steaks. Vac-packed fish can last a year in the freezer, as long as the seal is tight.
If the fish you buy is frozen individually loose in a bag it probably has a glaze on it that will help protect it. It’s not a good idea to hold onto that for a long time, as it will dehydrate and freezer burn. A few weeks to a month probably is about all you’ll want to let that go. If you freeze in the package (barrel bag/paper) we wrap it in you might want to put it in a freezer bag or put a foil wrap over the top and try not to hold if for more than a couple of weeks.
When thawing frozen seafood, it’s best to slow thaw in the fridge. Take it out of the freezer the night before. Put it on a plate and let it thaw slowly in a cold environment. If you have to speed thaw, cold running water is best. But make sure the fish remains wrapped tightly. If the fish is vac-packed, clip the seal on the bag before slow thawing, or immediately after if speed thawing. This will help avoid the possibility of botulism.
OYSTERS IN WARM WEATHER MONTHS –
Don’t take chances. It’s best to cook oysters in the warmer months as opposed to eating them raw. Growers and regulators will close areas that are having problems, but sometimes things get into the pipeline before an area is closed and you can’t tell by looking at or tasting the oyster. Cooking takes away the chances of foodborne illness. Here’s a link to some great and simply oyster recipes and cooking tips from Oyster Dave.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Gemini Fish Market is consistently rated as one of the top two or three fish markets in the Puget Sound area. Anytime we are in Issaquah to visit our son John, daughter-in-law Julie and grandchildren Ella and Miles, we will do dinner several times with fish bought at Gemini.)