Why You Should Pay Attention To The Ice Display When Buying Fresh Fish

Any excuse for a trip to your local fishmonger is reason enough to go. In the first ever episode of his first show, "A Cook's Tour," Anthony Bourdain visits Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, a multi-acre fish market (via YouTube). "Immediately, you want to rush back to your kitchen to find a way to work with what you've just bought. Indeed, if you've ever visited a fish market before, then you understand the hype. But, it's important not to get so excited that you forget to give the display a closer look.

When chef Thomas Keller goes shopping, he looks for firm, clear-eyed fish with bright pink gills. Of course, you should closely inspect the fish itself. But, inspect the ice it's resting on just as closely. In many open-air fresh fish markets, whole fish or large filets are displayed and chilled directly on top of a bed of ice. 

Make sure the ice cubes appear clean and are well-drained  — no pooling water, no cloudiness, and especially no visible gray discoloration. All of these are signs that the ice is seldom changed out, which isn't a great look and could make your fresh fish not so fresh after all.

Good fish is all about ice ice baby

Another thing about the ice display: Take note of how it's organized. Fishmongers should be stacking their fish meat-to-meat and skin-to-skin to avoid the transference of potential pathogens, per Real Simple. Plus, as a seemingly obvious sign, if the countertop isn't wiped clean, you should probably take it as a cue to keep walking and hit up the next vendor instead.

Ice doesn't stop playing an important role after your fish leaves the market, either. Your fish should be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit when it gets home, noticeably cool to the touch. If you're planning to freeze your fish, go ahead and stick it in the freezer as soon as you get home. However, if your fish has thawed to above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it cannot be refrozen. 

If possible, it's best to store your fish on a bed of ice covered with a damp paper towel right up until you're ready to cook. To that effect, before you hit the fish market, fill up a cooler with ice and bring it along in your car. You'll need it to safely transport your picks at home.