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Choosing Seafood 101

Let's be honest, for those of us who don't live on the coast, it can be challenging to find high-quality, fresh seafood...

...many of us aren't exactly surrounded by fresh-water oceans, bays and rivers.


So, where can you go to find (and how do you choose) high-quality seafood to help you feel like you live near the ocean?


Several years ago, we had the pleasure of crossing paths with the owner of a local treasure here in Wichita...Jessica Eberth with The Seafood Shop.

In 2008, Jessica decided to share her passion with others and opened The Seafood Shop, and they have been growing strong and serving the Wichita community ever since!

She was kind enough to sit down with us and share her expertise and robust knowledge and answer our many questions -- to help us understand how to select, store, and prepare high-quality seafood.



What are the most important things to consider when buying seafood?

The first is to understand what you like and know your palate.  Explore the flavor and texture of different varieties of seafood.  Some people like their fish to be very mild, almost bland, while others like fish that have a more mellow flavor.  And then some want their fish to be rich, bold and full of flavor.  Fish can be delicate (with small soft flakes), medium (with delicate, but firm, medium flakes) or firm (larger flakes and a meat-like texture).

For example, flounder is a mild, delicate fish.  Pink salmon, crab meat, and rainbow trout also have a delicate texture, but have a more moderate flavor.  Oysters and mussels have a delicate texture, with a much fuller flavor.   Examples of medium-textured fish would include cod, black sea bass, lobster and shrimp.  Then, firmer fish would include farmed catfish, mahi mahi, swordfish and albacore tuna.

For those that are unsure what they like, we recommend tilapia first because it blends well with other flavors.  A mild fish such as trout is another great option.  These are great places to start!

It is also important to know where the fish comes from and develop a relationship with the person you buy your seafood from.


What do all the buzzwords mean?

It can be confusing to understand the differences between “wild-caught,” “farm-raised,” “sustainable” and other terms used to describe seafood.  It is important to recognize there are pros and cons to each.  For farm-raised seafood, you want your seafood to be from a low density farm, with no color added, little or no antibiotics, and with fish fed a natural diet in their natural environment.  It is crucial to understand that different farms have different practices, and some can be cleaner and have more robust facilities and practices than others.  This is where you can rely on the knowledge of a local seafood shop to help you purchase from sources that meet important quality standards.

I am a big fan of "ocean raised" seafood.  This is a newer method of farming, also called "open ocean fish farming," where ocean farm structures are used to naturally expand aquaculture growth.  Think of it as fish farms that are moved further offshore.  There are several advantages to this approach, and challenges that must be overcome.  These ocean farms are now being equipped with cameras and sensors and have been impressively providing an excellent environment for raising quality fish.


What should fresh fish smell and feel like?

Always ask to smell it before you buy it (no one will think this is strange!).  Fresh fish should not have a distinct smell at all...and not fishy!

For fillets, steaks, or loins, look for bright color and firm flesh, which should be moist (but not slimy).  For whole fish, look for clear eyes (except for walleye), bright red gills, firm flesh, and tightly adhered scales.  Live shellfish should be lively and heavy, and for shelled fish such as clams and oysters, the shells should be tightly closed, or should close when tapped.


What is the difference between what I buy at The Seafood Shop vs the grocery store or warehouse club?

Fresh fish will be just that – fresher.  The benefit of buying fresh vs frozen is you know the age of your fish.  It's important to know the difference between fresh vs previously frozen or "refreshed" fish, so read the small print at your store.  Frozen fish can sometimes taste spongy when thawed and cooked.  There is nothing wrong with frozen fish…it just may not be the same quality as fresh fish.   Once fish has been frozen once, it should not be re-frozen.  If you are going to freeze your fish, it's best to package fresh fish and freeze it yourself or ask your fishmonger to wrap your purchase for the freezer.   For example, The Seafood Shop will wrap your purchase in plastic wrap and freezer paper, and then portion it and label it for the freezer, for no additional charge.


How long will fresh fish stay good?

Fresh fish will keep for about 4 days.  You should store it in the refrigerator and, if necessary, we will provide you with extra wrap and suggest you change the wrap every 24 hours to extend its freshness.  If it begins to smell "fishy" because you are pushing the 4-day limit, you can give your fish a bath in club soda and it will help remove the smell.


What about bones?

A good seller should ask if you want the bones removed.  The Seafood Shop will remove bones, if necessary, at no additional charge.  To make it most convenient, consider pre-ordering or provide a little notice if you need something more involved, such as a few dozen oysters shucked.


What fish have high mercury levels and why does that matter?

The fish with the highest mercury levels are shark, swordfish, tilefish and mackerel.  This is because they are larger fish, which have feasted on smaller mercury-containing fish.

Zonya's Take:

Albacore tuna, is recommended not more than once a month, and Light tuna, not more than twice a week.  (Yes, this is in regards to fresh or canned, and a lot of low carb dieters out there are dangerously overdoing cans of tuna, so take note!)


What advice do you have when someone says, "I don't cook fish because I don't like how it makes my house smell!"?

There are a couple of things you can do to run any unpleasing odor out of your house:

  • First, don't buy fish that smells "fishy".
  • Consider using lemon juice when cooking fish.
  • Sacrifice a fresh lemon!  Place a chopped lemon (quarter sized pieces, peel and all) down your garbage disposal and run it.  Then, your kitchen will be filled with a fresh lemon scent!


What is your most frequently asked question?

The question I am asked the most is "what day do you get your fish in?"  This is a great question and important to ask wherever you shop!  I tell people "everyday" and they don't believe me!  But we do get fish in fresh EVERY SINGLE DAY, with our biggest delivery on Tuesday.  We keep our fresh fish on ice for 48 hours, and then either freeze it, turn it into fish stock, or cook it and then it is good for another 5 days.


What is your favorite fish?

I have two favorites...tuna because I enjoy a nice piece of tuna even more than a beef fillet…and it's better for you. Then, domestic grouper because it is firm and has a wonderful essence.  My husband would say catfish.  Growing up, he used to think it tasted like dirt, but now he thinks our Mississippi Catfish tastes like "butter" and is consistently good!


What do you consider to be the best way to prepare fish?

I like to pan sear it because you can control the temperature and texture.  Ninety percent of the time I pan sear, but I will also cook it hot and fast in a 400-degree oven.

I also love grilling and smoking a variety of fish.


What is your funniest story?

I once had a customer who came in and wanted lobster.  She wanted us to show her how to prepare frozen lobster and how to cook them.  Once we explained that she would have to cut off the legs, she shrieked, "it has legs?!  I can't do that!"


What else would you like others to know?

Don't be afraid to ask questions...and no question is a stupid question!  Support businesses like us in your local community...The Seafood Shop is just a neighborhood joint, more so than a seafood store.  None of us are perfect.  We have been doing this for 10 years, and we are still learning every day.  If we ever make a mistake, we will always fix it and make it right.  We want you to trust us, and know that we will not try to sell you something we don’t think you will enjoy…we want you to be happy and we value your business.


Remember to ask "when did this fish come in" and always ask to smell it!  Then, try some of these absolutely delicious ways to enjoy a variety of fish:

Roasted Greens and Honey Mustard Salmon (shown above)

Panko Crusted Mustard Salmon

Cod and Pasta Ratatouille

Spicy Fish Taco Bowl

Avocado Seafood Mango Salad

Zesty Shrimp Stir Fry

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