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How to buy fresh fish

What to look for when purchasing tonight’s meal

How to buy fresh fish

You’ve mastered the art of purchasing the finest cuts of beef from the weekly farmers’ market, but when it comes to fresh fish, and the slightly intimidating fishmonger on the high street, you head for the ready packaged section every time. Never fear. We’ve teamed up with fish expert and restaurateur Mitch Tonks to help you pick out the freshest fillets.

The look

“Fresh fish shines. It should look like it has just come out of the sea.  Look for fish that looks sparklingly fresh, with bright shiny scales. Fish should be firm to the touch, don’t be afraid to prod it. ”

The smell

“Fresh fish smells only of the sea,” says Mitch. “It should have a clean, fresh salty seawater smell – once it starts to degrade an ammonic smell will take over.” If you find your mackerel has a distinct whiff about it, the likelihood is that it’ll be more than a few days old.

The eyes

“Eyes will be bright and clear not dull and sunken.” If the fish hasn’t been packed in ice immediately, or is more than a few days old, the eyes start to sink, and they begin to cloud, giving the impression the fish has cataracts.

The gills

If you can handle the fish, lift the gills up and look inside. “On the whole fish the gills should be deep red in colour.” The sign of an old fish is when the bright red starts to turn a faded brick colour.


“Some large fish will be filleted out on the boats (cod, haddock etc) so you will need other signs to test the freshness rather than eyes for these species), bright skin colour, glistening not dry flesh, smell as above and firmness.”

Ask the fishmonger

“A good fishmonger will know where his fish is from and how it has been caught, ask them also about what is good for the season and how to store the fish – usually in the coldest part of the fridge covered with a cloth or in the freezer.”

Credit: Mitch Tonks has worked with Young’s since 2005, to help make cooking with fish more accessible to us all. Mitch has 3 seafood restaurants in Dartmouth and Bristol and has written 4 seafood cookery books.

Picture: Rex Features