How to Buy Fresh Seafood In (2020)

Seafood is my thing. I fell in love with it when I became a sous chef at Abacus restaurant in Dallas, Texas, and started ordering all of the fish and seafood store near me. There’s so much variety, so it’s always exciting and challenging to serve. Here are some tricks I’ve learned along the way about buying and preparing it:

How to Buy Fish

Choose fillets based on what’s fresh. the best fish is whatever catch came on that day.

How Much to Buy

Try to get four to six ounces or 1/4 to 1/3 pound of fish per person for an entrée. For an appetizer portion, you only need two or three ounces per person.

What to Know

Ask your fishmonger, “When did that fish come in?” If it’s more than one to two days ago, take a pass on it and ask, “What’s fresh? What looks good today?” Direct questions should get straight answers.

What to Look for

Fish and seafood should be laid out so one side of the fish is always in contact with ice. Don’t trust filets or steaks that are stacked on top of each other. They’ll serve you from the top of the pile, and those fish aren’t in contact with ice.

The Look

Whole fresh fish is bright and clean—it should look like it was just pulled out of the water. The skin is glossy and, if you can touch it, kind of slimy. The scales are tight against the body. The eyes are clear; the gills, ruby red. Choose filets or steaks that are glistening (like they’re wet with oil) and have a sharp, clear color to the flesh.

The Smell

Take three slow, deep sniffs of any fish or seafood you buy. Your nose is your biggest ally when picking fresh fish because most stores won’t let you touch it. But it’s fair to ask the person at the counter to hold out a filet for you to smell. Ocean fish smell briny, like cold saltwater. Freshwater gives lake or river fish a stronger odor, but all fish and seafood should smell clean…not fishy. So go ahead, inhale.

When to Buy

Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are the best days to buy fish because stores typically get deliveries on these days; they stock up for the weekend. The fish you buy on Monday is on sale for a reason — it’s been sitting there for a few days.

When to Cook

Cook fish the day of, or within a day or two, of buying it. Most fish is previously frozen and have already been thawed once, which drains a lot of the natural water in the fish. Re-freezing and thawing dry out the fish even more.

Fish Pairings

Certain flavors work best with certain fish based on the type and texture of the fish.

Wild Salmon:

Flavor – Full, oily

Pairs with – Soy-ginger, peppercorns, citrus, dill


Flavor – Full, rich

Pairs with – Asian glazes, wasabi, melon salsa

Dover Sole:

Flavor – Mild, delicate

Pairs with – Capers, lemon, chive butter