Gulf Coast seafood is a favorite of fishermen, grocers, chefs, foodies, and all of us “just plain seafood lovers” everywhere for its superior taste and quality. In fact, 70 percent of the oysters, 69 percent of domestic shrimp, and a large number of the domestic hard and soft-shell blue crabs consumed in the U.S. each year come straight from the Gulf’s bountiful waters.
We all know why we love our Gulf Coast seafood, but most of us could use some help when it comes to selecting the freshest, best-quality product whether we are ordering seafood in a restaurant or buying it to prepare at home for our family and friends.
Well-Being turned to the Southeast Seafood Marketing Coalition and Melissa Scallan, Public Affairs Director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, for some great information about choosing “the cream of the catch.”
“When you’re looking to buy fresh Gulf seafood, you want to make sure that you’re getting the highest-quality and safest seafood available,” says Melissa Scallan. “The first and most important step before you purchase seafood at a store (or order it in a restaurant) is to ask the seller (or server) the country of origin. You can rest assured that seafood caught and sold in the U.S. is tested thoroughly, but only 1 to 2 percent of seafood imported from other countries is tested.”
To elaborate on Melissa’s point, even seafood caught in the Gulf in Mexican territorial waters and imported into the U.S. marketplace does not undergo the rigorous testing for quality and safety of U.S. Gulf seafood.
So how do you know if you are selecting the highest quality and freshest seafood when you are at the grocery store or seafood market? Check out these great tips from the Southeast Seafood Marketing Coalition.
If you’re buying fish fillets… Make sure the flesh of the fish is vibrantly colored, with a translucent (not opaque) sheen. The fish’s flesh should be free of cuts, discoloration, separations, or dry spots; if the fish has scales, they should look smooth and unruffled. If the fish is packaged: make sure there’s little (if any) liquid surrounding the fillet. If there is a small amount of liquid, it should be clear, not milky. The fillet should be in a natural position (not rolled or folded).
Check fish fillets for any foul or overly strong odors. Fresh fillets should smell clean with mild scents of saltwater, seaweed, and cucumber.
To store your fillet, use tightly wrapped moisture-proof paper or plastic wrap. Surround the wrapped fillet with crushed ice to prevent moisture loss. You can keep the fillet in the refrigerator for up to two days. If frozen, thaw fish fillets in the refrigerator or in a bowl of cold water, changing the water frequently.
If you’re buying whole fish… The fish should appear fresh, without any signs of cuts, discoloration, or dryness. Make sure its gills are a rich, cherry-red color and that they’re free of slime and mucus. The fish’s scales should be smooth and tightly arranged, not ruffled or disheveled. The fish’s eyes can bulge a little, but make sure that they’re clear and not cloudy.
Give your fish the sniff test to make sure it’s free of foul or overly strong odors. As with a fish fillet, you want to check that the fish smells like the ocean – you might get whiffs of saltwater, cucumber, and seaweed.
Touch (or ask your seller to touch) the fish to make sure its flesh is firm. If you hold the fish by the middle of its body, its head and tail should remain straight. If gently poked, the flesh should bounce back and retain its shape.
Again, store your fish in tightly wrapped moisture-proof paper or plastic, and refrigerate it in a bowl of crushed ice to keep it fresh. Eat it within two days.
If you’re buying shellfish… Make sure shellfish is in a fresh and undamaged condition. The shell should be tightly closed, without any gaps or cracks. If you’re buying shrimp, make sure that they look firm and fresh; if you’re buying live crabs, check to see if the crabs are moving and active.
Shellfish should be checked to be sure there is no foul or overly strong odor. Like whole fish and fish fillets, shellfish should have a very light, ocean-like scent.
You can store your shellfish like you would a whole fish or fish fillet – tightly wrapped and surrounded by ice in your refrigerator. Use within two days. If you’re buying frozen shrimp, remember that raw, headless shrimp tend to store better than pre-cooked frozen shrimp.
“Gulf seafood, grown in our waters by Mother Nature and harvested by local fishermen, continues to be a superior product,” adds Scallan. “It has the taste, texture and quality that stands out from the rest. And, when you purchase Mississippi Gulf Seafood, you’re not only getting the highest-quality seafood, you’re supporting our rich local culture and the economy of the entire coastal region.”
Gulf Coast Seafood Nutrition Facts
• Seafood is an important part of a healthful diet, containing high-quality protein and a variety of essential nutrients, such as vitamins B6 and B12.
• Some varieties of seafood are among the few natural sources of vitamin D.
• While seafood is low in saturated fat, it offers healthy omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease.
• The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating about 8 ounces of seafood per week (less for young children) and encourages individuals to increase the amount of seafood in their diet by replacing other protein sources.
• Since an ounce of seafood is often lower in calories than other protein sources, seafood can also be a great choice for individuals looking to manage their weight.
• From grilling to serving on salads, incorporating seafood into the diet is easy.
Warning to pregnant women:
• The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourage pregnant women to avoid fish high in mercury content including: swordfish; shark; king mackerel and tilefish.
• What is safe? Seafood with low mercury content. Consider: shrimp; salmon; Pollock; catfish; anchovies and trout.
• Limit albacore tuna and tuna steak and be aware that mercury levels in some canned light tuna may vary from can to can.
• Avoid raw fish and shellfish. Examples include sushi, sashimi, and raw oysters, scallops or clams.