How to buy the best seafood

Tips from Sunset's test kitchen on purchasing the tastiest seafood

Best seafood dishes

Seafood is extremely perishable. Before you buy any, make sure it meets the following standards for freshness.

• Seafood should smell clean and salty ― like the sea ― never "fishy."

• Freshwater fish should have almost no smell other than a slight scent of lake or river water.

• Fish flesh should be firm, not mushy, and clear with no brown spots.

• Whole fish should have clear eyes, pink gills, and shiny skin.

• Mussels, oysters, and clams should be alive.

• Crabs and lobsters should be alive and active.

• Shrimp should have firm meat that fills their shells.

Choosing a fishmonger

The best way to ensure that the seafood you buy is fresh and properly stored is to find a reliable fishmonger. Here's how to pick one.

• The store or counter smells clean, not "fishy."

• The shop's counters and floor are clean.

• Whole fish is at least halfway immersed in ice.

• Fillets sit on top of ice.

• Seafood is not sitting in puddles of water.

• Counter help can answer questions about the seafood: When did the halibut arrive? Where are the prawns from? Where were the oysters farmed? How long will the mussels last?

What you can do 
 
 

• Make seafood-buying the last of your errands so the fish or shellfish spends the minimal time possible out of refrigeration.

• If it's a hot day, ask that ice be shoveled into the bag with your fish (or bring a little insulated cooler with you, with ice packs in it, for carrying the fish home).

• Buy seafood as close as possible to the time you are going to use it (preferably the same day).

• Store seafood properly: fish well wrapped and chilled, shellfish wrapped but with some airflow to it (never tied off in a plastic bag ― it's alive and it needs air).

• Know as much as you can about what you're buying, such as local seafood seasons, where different fish are from, and methods used to catch or raise them.

To choose seafood that's as good for the oceans as it is for you, check the regularly updated sustainability charts from Monterey Bay Aquarium and Oceans Alive.

Food staff picks the West's best seafood dishes

Baja Fried-Fish Tacos
Straight from Baja and Southern California, these classic fish tacos carry a taste of sunny beaches and good times.

Fish Tacos
These are an easier and fresher take on the classic fish taco, using grilled fish instead of fried. Brightly colored corn-avocado relish and a crispy cabbage slaw add spark to the dinner.

Classic Cioppino
The mixed-seafood stew is an Italian-inspired San Francisco classic. We like to serve ours with extra-crusty sourdough bread.

Beer-battered Cod and Onion Rings
For those times when you can't make it to the fish shack, you can make superlative fish and chips at home with a light and crunchy beer batter.

Cedar-Planked Salmon
We've taken a traditional cooking method from the Northwest and modified it for the backyard grill. Salmon fillets are cooked on a piece of wood over a fire, which keeps the fish moist and imparts it with a smoky flavor.

Grilled Oysters with Chipotle Glaze
Raw oysters are always a treat, but we really fell for this elegant version of barbecued oysters with a spicy chipotle sauce.

Wine-steamed Mussels with Aioli
Mussels are one of our favorite easy entertaining dishes (farmed ones require so little cleaning or debearding). Buy them that afternoon, and throw them in the pot 10 minutes before you're ready to eat. You'll have a seafood feast with minimal fuss for the host.

Vietnamese-style Spicy Crab with Garlic Noodles
We have nothing against traditional steamed crab and drawn butter, but we can't get enough Vietnamese-style pan-fried crab with a pile of toothsome garlic noodles on the side.

Browse hundreds more recipes »

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