What Thomas Keller Looks For When Buying Whole Fish

Whole fish had a big moment in 2022. Bon Appétit even listed whole fish as one of its 10 Favorite Restaurant Trends of the year. But, whole fish has been a longtime resident on the menus of some of the finest dining establishments in the culinary world for much longer than that. According to chef Anthony Bourdain, one of the most important aspects of buying fish is the punctuality of the fishmonger: "I would never be late, my cook would never be late, why is the fish guy late?" Time is also of the essence with respect to the fish. According to the USDA, raw fish only lasts for a day or two in the refrigerator. So getting less-fresh fish presumably eats into its already short storage time. But, when it comes to personally selecting the best fish from the proverbial and literal sea that is your local fish market, it can get even more complicated.

If you're feeling a little puzzled by how to pick out fish, Thomas Keller offers a few tricks of the trade. The chef was named a Chevalier by the French Legion of Honor, the most prestigious honor in France. Moreover, he holds multiple three-star ratings from Michelin Guide. To say the least, Keller knows his stuff, and he cooks a lot of fish. Per MasterClass, monkfish, sturgeon, swordfish, striped bass, and more are all regular fixtures in Keller's kitchens. Here's what he looks for when buying whole fish.

Keller is only buying firm, pink, clear-eyed fish

When buying whole fish, Thomas Keller's first piece of advice can be summated as "keep an eye out." Specifically, as you cruise the ice-filled vats at your local fish market, look for fish with clear eyes, explains Keller via MasterClass. Cloudiness can be a red flag. Per a Washington Post piece reposted by the Los Angeles Times, spots of blood in the eyes can be a sign of improper handling. But, clouded eyes aren't always a cut-and-dry sign that something is wrong; perfectly good fish can have foggy retinas. Still, clear eyes are ideal. Home cooks should also look for "uniformly pink" gills. Celebrity chef Rick Stein agrees, adding that grey or faded gills are an instant warning sign of lesser quality product.

After you've put your eyes to the test, put your hands to good use and give that fish skin some pressure. If it's firm enough to bounce back at you, says Keller it's good to buy. It's a buying guide you can trust: Keller's guidelines almost identically mirror the FDA's guidelines for selecting fresh fish. If you're hungry for a little cooking inspiration, in his magnum opus "The French Laundry Cookbook," Keller reveals his technique for extra succulent fish: squeeze the moisture from the fish's skin over the meat itself before sautéing.