Tips on eyeing and buying fresh fish

By Kimberly Turnbull and Julia Rutland
April 11, 2007
Clark James Mishler

Don't be intimidated by skins and fins. Take advantage of seasonal salmon and purchase the entire fish. You can roast salmon whole or cut it into fillets for individual servings. Here are some tips to keep in mind when shopping for fresh whole fish.

• Eyes: The eyes should be clear, not cloudy and not sunken or bulging.
• Gills: The gills should be bloodred, not gray. Gills are an excellent indicator of the freshness of the fish; if they're brownish gray or have been already removed, ask for a different fish.
• Skin and flesh: Skin should be moist, never dried out. Flesh should be firm to the touch, not soft. To test, push on the fish with your fingertip. It should always bounce back.
• Scent: Fresh fish smell briny―not fishy or overpowering. When in doubt, keep shopping or try a different fish market.

Fish Tales
• King or chinook is one of five species of wild Pacific salmon. Other Pacific salmon include sockeye, coho or silver, chum, and pink.

• King salmon is the largest type. Its catch weight is often between 15 and 30 pounds, but it's not unheard of to land one approaching 100 pounds.

• Wild salmon begin life in freshwater streams and rivers, then follow the rivers' flow and begin adulthood in salt water. They return to spawn in the same river in which they were hatched. This migration is called a "run." A salmon run does not necessarily include all species, and the dates vary. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides details on its Web site,

• Some catches from runs are sold by the name of the river in which they hatch and spawn. The Copper River is legendary for its run of king salmon.

• Wild Alaskan salmon is one of the best environmentally friendly buys, because it isn't overfished or harvested in ways that harm the ocean.

• Salmon is an oily fish; this oil gives it its distinctive taste and makes it an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids―linked to the prevention of heart attacks, strokes, depression, and more.

• Wild salmon's red flesh is due to the fishes' diet, which includes crustaceans such as shrimp.

• During off-season, consumers can find frozen king salmon at seafood markets or online. If frozen immediately, salmon retains its fresh-caught flavor and texture. Don't refreeze salmon, or its flavor and texture will deteriorate.

• Salmon's high fat content helps keep it from drying out. The fish is well suited for a variety of cooking techniques, such as baking, braising, broiling, grilling, poaching, sautéing, and steaming.

• Salmon fillets have pin bones running along the side of the meat; you will need to remove them if the fish market hasn't already. Using needle-nose pliers or tweezers, pull out the bones at the same angle to avoid tearing the flesh. Skinning the fillet first makes this task easier.