How to choose fresh fish at the market (and supermarket)

Simone Paciaroni

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How to choose fresh fish at the market (and supermarket)

Whether strolling around the market or at the supermarket, at the end of our “tour” we often find ourselves in front of the fresh fish counter. At least in medium-large supermarkets that offer this purchasing option.

Fresh fish is a key ingredient in the cuisine of many countries around the world. Its freshness and quality are crucial to ensure delicious and healthy dishes. But choosing fresh fish can be a difficult task if you don’t know the right criteria.

Given this widespread difficulty in recognizing fresh fish at first glance, I offer this guide, where we will discover how to choose fresh fish to ensure we bring home the best possible product and preferably freshly caught of the day.

Observe the appearance

Observe the appearance

How to choose fresh fish: the guide

Observing the fish’s appearance is fundamental, even if, unfortunately, modern counters often do not allow you to get close enough to scrutinize the seafood offered. This is for health reasons and to avoid external contamination. But we can always ask our trusted operator to carry out a check for us or show us the fish we have chosen up close.


The appearance of fresh fish is the first indicator of its quality. The eyes should be clear and bright, not cloudy or sunken. This is a sign of freshness. Learn how to choose fresh fish starting by observing our product.

Skin and scales

Skin and scales

The skin should be shiny and moist, not dry or wrinkled. The scales should be adherent, not detached or missing. Fresh fish will have elastic skin that returns to its original shape when pressed.

If we find some mucus on some fish, this is also a signal of freshness, as opposed to the dryness of the skin, which indicates that it’s not fresh.


Another important indicator for fresh fish is its smell. Indeed, fresh fish should have a fresh sea smell, or at least it should not have a pungent or unpleasant smell. A strong or nauseating smell is a sure sign that the fish is not fresh. Rather, there’s a high likelihood it’s already in an advanced state of deterioration.


The texture of the fish can tell you a lot about its freshness. The meat should be firm and bounce back when touched. As mentioned before, for food safety reasons, it is not possible to touch the fish with your hands, even with gloves.

At this point we could ask the shop assistant to do it for us, keeping the following in mind: If the part touched easily deforms or if a fingerprint remains, the fish is probably not fresh.



The gills of the fish are another good indicator of freshness. They should have a bright red color. If they are a dull brown color or if they have gray or yellow mucus, the fish is not fresh.

However, be aware that nowadays some farmed fish retain the red gills as if they were just caught, this could be misleading, as some substances (lawful) that are added to the feed, could alter the color of the gills making them always look beautiful and bright red.

Check the origin

Always check the origin of the fish. The locally caught product is usually more fresh compared to the imported one. This is because a local product is delivered to the store within a few hours, unlike an imported product that could also have a few days between travel and storage.

Also make sure that the fish was caught sustainably. Every label must legally indicate the method of capture or if farmed. Controls on imports in some of the most important European countries are still very weak and this allows illegal catches to still enter the EU chain.
Source: WWF – Sustainable Fishing


Pay attention to how the fish is preserved by the seller. Fresh fish should be stored on ice and separated from not fresh fish. It should also have a thin layer of ice over its skin so that it does not dry out, stays hydrated, and at the lowest possible temperature.

The only exception for mussels, clams, and all bivalve mollusks, which being alive, must not be kept in contact with ice, as they would die after a short time. Our shellfish should be kept between 0°C and +4°C and once at home they should be cooked and consumed as soon as possible.

Storing Fish at Home

Storing Fish at Home

Once at home, you should quickly put the fish in the fridge or, even better, wash and cook it as soon as possible. Now that we understand how to choose fresh fish, let’s see how to best preserve fish after our purchase.

Your home refrigerator will work just fine and should be kept at a temperature between 0°C and +4°C. Often, modern domestic refrigerators already have a compartment for meat and fish, make sure to keep meat and fish separate from other foods to avoid contamination between different products.

Remove the fish from the bag, rinse it with plenty of water, dry it and put it in a sealed plastic container or on a plate with some damp absorbent paper on top, and obviously, consume it after cooking as soon as possible.

Here is a short checklist for choosing fresh fish:

  • Clear and bright eyes
  • Shiny and moist skin with adhering scales
  • Fresh smell of the sea
  • Firm and springy flesh
  • Red gills
  • Locally sourced and sustainably caught
  • Preserved on ice (no shellfish)

Nutritional Chart of Farmed Sea Bream

Now, let’s take a look at the nutritional chart of farmed sea bream, a fish much appreciated in Mediterranean cuisine:

NutrientAmount per 100 grams
Saturated Fats1.2g

Farmed sea bream, like other fish, is a rich source of protein. It’s also a good source of Omega-3, essential fatty acids for heart health.

Remember, the way you cook your fish can affect its nutritional value. For example, frying sea bream will increase its fat content, while steaming or baking will minimize added fats.

In conclusion, with the right knowledge and attention, it is possible to understand how to intelligently choose fresh fish. Whether you are cooking for yourself, for your family, or for a special event, the choice of fresh fish is crucial for delicious and healthy dishes.

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