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TIP OF THE DAY: Buying Fresh Fish

Are you cooking fish less often because you’re not comfortable with your technique?

There are plenty of videos online that show you just how easy it is to cook fish: on the stovetop, in the oven, on the grill. The key is this: don’t overcook it. Fish is far more delicious on the rare side than well done. (Sushi lovers can vouch that it’s wonderful absolutely raw.)

Today’s tip mostly focuses on buying the best fish. For advice, we turned to the experts at Arch Rock Fish restaurant in Santa Barbara. Chef Scott Leibfried has also provided a simple and delicious recipe. Tomorrow, we’ll present Chef Scott’s cooking tips

Arch Rock Fish has the benefit of the local Santa Barbara Fish Market, which the chef visits each morning to search for the freshest catches of the day.

But even if you’re limited to a supermarket fish department, you can use the look, smell and touch tests to get the best fish available. Good chefs buy fish based on these criteria. So you may have salmon in mind, but if it looks a little tired, go for a fresher variety.

A good portion size is six to seven ounces.


Check the eyes for clear, not cloudy, lenses. Photo of red snapper courtesy



Examine the whole fish for freshness:

  • The eyes have it. It should have bright, clear eyes. Dull or cloudy eyes indicate a fish that is past its prime.
  • Look for metallic and shiny scales. The scales should be intact and lying flat. Missing or discolored scales can indicate a fish that is in the decomposition stage.
  • Check the gills. The gills of fresh fish should be a bright, rich red. On an older fish, the gills will look like a rust or brownish-red color.
  • Fish should never smell “fishy.” That’s the smell of decomposition. Fresh fish should smell like clean water or slightly salted water.

    Simply prepared halibut with Yukon Gold
    potatoes and leeks. Photo courtesy



  • Avoid milky liquid. If the fish is cut, you may be able to see liquid in the meat. That liquid should run clear: Milky liquid the sign of a bad fish.
  • Look for the bounce. If you press a finger into the filet, the meat should bounce back and no indentation should be left on the fish. This indicates meat that is succulent yet firm. You can ask the counterperson, who is wearing protective rubber or plastic gloves, to perform the test as you watch.

    In the market for lobster or crab? Look for specimens that are moving around and look lively. The motionless ones are likely no longer eating, and this self-starvation yields less meat.



    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 4 six-ounce halibut portions
  • 4 lemons
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 4 ounces fresh basil
  • 3 ounces pistachio nuts
  • 1-1/2 cups Italian parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Optional garnish: lemon wheel

    1. CLEAN, cut and portion fish, for beginners I definitely recommend a halibut fillet not a whole halibut and skin off is better for this dish

    2. RUB oil on the halibut, season with salt and pepper and placce in a baking dish that’s been wiped with oil. Depending on your oven (everyone’s varies!) and the thickness of the fish, bake at 375°F for 15 minutes. Always check the doneness: A cooked fish shouldn’t be translucent; the flesh should be firm and beginning to flake when touched with a fork. While the fish is cooking…

    3. MAKE the pesto. Zest the lemons and combine with garlic, basil, parsley, pistachios salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse until minced. With the motor running, slowly stream in olive oil until the sauce forms.

    4. SERVE by placing pesto atop the cooked fish. Garnish with a lemon wheel. If you feel more ambitious, consider Chef Scott’s preferred garnish: “I personally like to fry a leaf of basil, until it becomes like a clear green chip.”

    5. SERVE with a starch—orzo, a bed of pasta, potatoes, rice—and greens.



    Related Food Videos: For more food videos, check out The Nibble's Food Video Collection.

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