Buying your fish at the market - a how to guide

In a previous post you’ll see that I made a pact to self to Eat More Fish.

This means I’ve become slightly obsessed with the fishmonger of late. Not obsessed with his charming smile mind you - though it is something to behold - but with his fresh catch straight from mother nature.

The only drawback of this is that I’ve been forced to go on a journey of education. Not so much to learn about what’s on offer, although this is important, but more about how to buy at the market.

Many of you regular stall shoppers will already know there are rules when it comes to market buying. Tricks of the trade if you like.

For those who would still like a crash course, here are some insider tips on bidding, bargaining and generally eeking out the knowledge you need to make the right choice at the market stall:

1. The first thing about market buying is don’t feel rushed. There may be a queue of you lined up and the fishmonger may want you to hurry up so he or she can move on to the next customer, but it’s important to give yourself time to choose. Fresh fish is one of life’s great pleasures and you should enjoy the whole experience – from shopping to cooking to eating.

2. Look out for signs of freshness. On whole fish, bright eyes and shiny skin are the first things you should look for. For fillets (e.g. Salmon, cod, haddock), also look for a good shine. Dull fish may have been sitting there a day or two too long.

3. Look out for seasonal catches. If it’s mussels or Oysters for example. There is a season for them and the old saying that if the month ends in R usually means they’ll be fresh. Both mussels and oysters should be firmly closed when you buy them. Clams have a habit of opening slightly but when tapped fresh (i.e. alive)ones should shut closed. Clever.

4. Likewise look out for local catches. An obvious one but if you’re in Whitby and you see Whitby crab on offer, get it while you can. Same goes for Lancashire brown shrimps, Scottish salmon, Cornish sea bass and East end jellied eels. Only joking with the last one.

5. Experiment and don’t always go for the obvious choice. You may only recognise cod, haddock and salmon, but there may be a fresher fish waiting for you to try. Ask your fishmonger what they recommend. They are always a true fountain of knowledge. For example razor clams are delicious cooked simply with a little butter and chilli with flat leaf parsley. Sea bass and dorade are equally delicious. Mackerel too.

6. Don’t be put off by whole fish or tricky preparation. If you want fillets for a quick supper your fishmonger will be happy to do it. Likewise for anything different like octopus or squid they’ll prepare it so it’s ready for cooking. It’s an experience just to watch these talented people preparing the fish for you.

7. Don’t be afraid to barter. Especially if you’re a regular customer or are buying in bulk. Think like a trader. They’re used to doing deals at market so they shouldn’t resent you for asking if you’re asking for a reasonable discount for cash.

8. Ask for recommendations on how to eat the different types of fish on offer. There could be no better expert and you’ll get some personal stories too.

Have you got any extra tips? I’d love to hear from you if you do. Happy hunting.

p.s. Look at the fabulous market I get to go to. Thought I’d post a pic for you to see what a beautiful building all the action takes place in.


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