How To Tell If Your Seafood Is Fresh

There’s nothing quite like a delicious meal featuring the freshest seafood. However, choosing the best seafood can be challenging if you don’t know what to look for. Learning the different signs of freshness depends on the type of fish or seafood you want. Before shopping for your ingredients for that new seafood recipe, the team at Caviar Bar — one of the Resorts World restaurants Las Vegas — shares how to tell if the fish or seafood is fresh.

Join us for dinner at Caviar Bar for the best seafood in Las Vegas! Make a reservation online now.

1. Fish skin should have a metallic shine

If you’re buying whole fish – including salmon, tuna, cod, sea bass, or red snapper – the first thing to do is examine the skin. Look for a shiny, metallic appearance to the scales. According to ScienceDaily, fish scales have a metallic or silvery appearance to help the fish hide from predators. The light reflects off guanine crystals that naturally form in the skin.

The fresher the fish, the more these guanine crystals are intact, and the more the fish skin will appear shiny and reflective. As the fish starts to deteriorate, the skin will become dull and less vibrant. You may even notice dark spots, missing scales, or scales that come off easily, which are telltale signs that the fish is not fresh.

2. Look for bright, clear eyes

Another way to tell if fish is fresh is to evaluate their eyes. Studies have shown that fresh fish typically have clear, bright, bulging eyes, which will gradually degrade with time. Larger fish eyes will dull and become cloudy more quickly than smaller species, but the overall outcome is the same. As time goes on, fish eyes will appear dull and less luminous.

Likewise, you should avoid shrimp and other shellfish that have shrunken, broken, or missing eyes. This could be a sign that they’ve already been handled quite a bit and are starting to break apart. Also, check that the eyes are bright and glossy rather than murky.

3. Check for firmness

For those who are purchasing fish filets rather than whole fish, you don’t have the advantage of checking out the fish’s eyes. Instead, you can evaluate the firmness of the fish by pressing down on the meat. As explained by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), fresh fish should spring back quickly after being pressed. If you find that the fish sinks in or doesn’t bounce back immediately after pushing down on the meat, the fish is probably not fresh.

Other types of seafood that should have a firm texture include:

  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Lobster
  • Crayfish

You can press on the shells of these species to see if the meat has turned soft or squishy. If they are fresh, they shouldn’t have a slippery or spongy feel. Instead, the shell and meat within should feel firm to the touch.

4. Pay attention to the gills

Similarly to lungs found in humans and other land-dwelling animals, gills allow fish to take in oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from their bodies. They extract the oxygen directly from the water and transport it through blood vessels that connect to the fish’s cardiovascular system. You’ll find them on either side of the fish’s head, close to the fins.

The condition of a fish’s gills can give insight into how fresh it is. While examining a fish for freshness, check the gills for color and texture. Gills on a newly caught fish will appear red and vibrant and have a moist yet firm feel. As the fish starts to age and eventually go bad, the gills tend to have a faded brownish tone and develop a milky slime. If you see this while checking a fish’s gills, you should always steer clear.

5. Don’t ignore the smell

Most seafood will have a fresh, briny smell similar to the ocean. Walk into any high-end fresh seafood restaurant kitchen, and you’ll know exactly what we mean. However, fish should not have an offensive or pungent odor. While some seafood will smell more potent than others, it’s a red flag if it has a rancid or sour fishiness to its smell. Fresh fish should smell almost neutral. Otherwise, there’s a good chance it’s already started to spoil.

Freshwater fish may have more of a muddy smell than a fishy one, as explained by the American Society for Nutrition. However, you should still do a smell test before purchasing these fish to check for foul odors that may indicate the fish is not fresh.

6. Check shellfish for liveliness

close up of different types of shellfish

The best fresh seafood restaurant lovers know that freshness is crucial for the ideal flavor and texture. The best way to get fresh shellfish is to buy it while it’s still alive at a trusted market that regularly handles seafood. When picking out the best clams, mussels, or oysters, here are some tips to help spot the freshest ones:

  • When you gently tap on the shells, their reaction should be to close tightly immediately.
  • If the shellfish do not shut when touched, they are most likely already perished.
  • The shellfish should have a mild smell that is not overly fishy.
  • The siphons of soft shell clams should move slightly after being touched.
  • Ensure the shells are not chipped, broken, or dirty.

Choosing the Freshest Seafood in Las Vegas

When picking the best seafood, you need patience and a keen eye for detail – or you can leave it to fine dining professionals at the top seafood restaurants in Las Vegas! If you’re looking for the best restaurants in Las Vegas and want a seafood restaurant Las Vegas Strip option, Caviar Bar will not disappoint.

Fresh Seafood Guide – FAQs

How do restaurants get fresh seafood?

The best fresh seafood restaurants partner with trustworthy, reputable distributors to get fresh fish, shellfish, and other types of seafood. They may also develop relationships with fishermen to get a fresh supply directly from the source. In addition, restaurants located in seaside cities may purchase their seafood from fresh fish markets open to industry professionals.

Is mushy fish overcooked or undercooked?

Fish come in many different textures: firm, tender, flakey, and delicate. If you try fish that has a mushy consistency, chances are the fish was too moist when cooking after being frozen for too long. Overcooked fish tend to have a tough consistency, while undercooked fish can seem rubbery. The perfectly-cooked fish will flake easily and no longer appear transparent.  

When cooking, what does it mean when fish should be opaque?

Raw fish appears shiny, oily, and somewhat translucent. As it cooks, the meat looks less clear and more solid in color or opaque. You shouldn’t be able to see into or through the fish meat after it’s been cooked. A good example is salmon. When salmon is raw, it has a vibrant, glossy orange color. However, cooked salmon has an opaque pink color that is no longer shiny.

How do you tell if a fish is fresh enough for sushi?

Some fish are considered safe to eat raw because they most likely have a low risk of parasites. In accordance with FDA guidelines, most of the fresh fish served in sushi restaurants have been frozen for a specific amount of time to kill any parasites they may have contained. Seafood experts will also use their skills and experience to judge whether fish is fresh enough to eat as sushi or sashimi.

How can we tell if our store-bought fish is truly wild or farmed?

Most labels will designate whether the fish you bought in the store is wild or farmed. However, there are other ways to differentiate between wild and farmed fish. For example, farmed salmon will have slightly different coloring than wild salmon, with a more pinkish tone and defined white lines. Wild salmon typically has a strong orange-to-reddish color. You can also ask the seafood market staff to confirm whether the fish is farmed or wild if the labeling isn’t clear.

For the finest in seafood dining, gather your friends for an epic upscale dining experience by Chef Shaun Hergatt that will leave you wanting more. Conveniently located in the new Resorts World Las Vegas, be sure to check out our menu at Caviar Bar for your favorite seafood dishes and make a reservation online today!

supermarket employee pointing at fresh fish

Resources: 

Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guidance. (2011).

How Do I Know When My Fish is Cooked? • Seafood Nutrition Partnership. (2017).

Murakoshi, T. et al. (2013). Glossiness and Perishable Food Quality: Visual Freshness Judgment of Fish Eyes Based on Luminance Distribution – PMC.

Selecting and Serving Fresh and Frozen Seafood Safely | FDA. (2022).

Shellfish Handling Safety. (2022).

Solving The Mystery Of The Metallic Sheen Of Fish — ScienceDaily. (2008).

Spencer, E. (2020). How Do Gills Work? – Ocean Conservancy.