How to choose a fresh, whole fish

March 11, 2023

Lent is a 40-day period that begins on Ash Wednesday and culminates with Easter Sunday. For faithful Christians, Lent involves prayer, reflection and sacrifice, much in the way that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for others. One of the components of giving something up is abstaining from eating meat on key days during Lent, particularly each Friday.

Various religious scholars and experts put different spins on why people abstain from eating meat during Lent. According to UMD Newman and Bulldog Catholic, meat was singled out because it is associated with celebrations and feasts. It also is considered a luxury in different cultures. Therefore, during the solemn Lenten season, meat is eschewed in favor of “poorer” foods like fish and vegetables.

During Lent, people flock to fish mongers and the fish counters of their favorite stores. While filets, steaks and shellfish may be purchased for Friday dinners, many people also opt for whole fish for their meals. When selecting whole fish, there are certain criteria that can help shoppers select products that are fresh and safe to eat. The Michelin Guide and other resources offer these tips:

• Look at the eyes first. Fish that is fresh will have clear, bulging eyes with dark pupils. The eyes should look as lifelike as possible. Cloudy-eyed fish are old.

• Touch the fins. Ask to feel the fins to see if they are still movable and nimble. Dried, brittle fins are a mark of age.

• Smell the fish. Fish should smell like the sea, but not overly fishy. Odd smells could be indicative of an old fish and also one that has begun to decay.

• Look at the skin. The skin of fresh fish should be moist and shiny.

• Check inside the gills. The inside of the gills should be bright red, as this is the area where the oxygen vessels of the fish are located. The fresher the fish, the brighter the shade of red. Gills darken over time, so avoid fish if the gills are brown or black.

• Ask how the fish was handled. Of course, it is ideal to get fish right out of the sea, but this isn’t always possible unless you’ve spent a day fishing. Ensure that the fish has been packed on ice and see if you can confirm how long it has been on display before purchasing it. Check to ensure that it has not been defrosted and refrozen. It is not advisable to refreeze fish.

Fresh fish is a tradition during Lent. Be sure that Lenten meals are safe and delicious by choosing fresh fish.

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