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What Are Fish?
Fish are aquatic cold-blooded vertebrates found both at sea and in freshwater. Many edible fish are great sources of nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, protein, B vitamins, iodine, and calcium, but fish also pose a risk of harboring toxins and parasites and spoil much more quickly than other meats, which is why it’s especially important to buy fish that’s fresh, in season, and sustainably harvested.
How to Shop for Fish
Eating fish doesn't have to be bad for the environment, but it's important to research varieties of fish and learn when they are in season. Plan your dinners and lunches around their availability to make sure you're not contributing to overfishing practices.
When buying a fish, make sure the gills are bright red and the eyes are not sunken. These indications mean the fish is fresh. Buy fish that smells fresh, and not too fishy, which can indicate bacteria. Look for whole fish that is shiny (not dull) and taut (not wrinkly). Eyes should be bright black (not opaque gray) and convex (rounded outward—not flat). Flesh color varies among species but fillets should not be brown around the edges.
6 Endangered Fish to Look Out For
For most of us, fish are the only wild food we eat. This means that when choosing fish we need to think not only about what we’d like to eat, but where it comes from. Overfishing can endanger vulnerable species, and bycatch—fish that are incidentally caught when harvesting other types of fish—can also harm marine ecosystems. Some endangered edible fish include:
- Bluefin tuna are endangered. Although the population of wild Pacific bluefin tuna in the US is below target levels, US-caught tuna is considered sustainable because policies are already in place to prevent overfishing.
- Wild Atlantic salmon from the Gulf of Maine is endangered and has protected status. Most US Atlantic salmon is farmed.
- Chinook salmon from the Sacramento River and Upper Columbia River are endangered, while several other varieties of Chinook salmon are threatened. Chinook salmon from Alaska is considered sustainable.
- Coho salmon from the Central California coast are endangered, while Coho salmon from the lower Columbia River, Oregon coast, southern Oregon, and Northern California coasts are threatened. Coho salmon from Alaska are considered sustainable.
- Sockeye salmon from the Snake River are endangered.
- Steelhead trout are endangered in Southern California and threatened in the California Central Valley, California coast, Columbia River, Puget Sound, Snake River Basin, and Upper Willamette River.
How to Prep Fish
Once home, rinse fish under very cold water to remove surface bacteria. Blot rinsed fish dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap to minimize oxygen exposure. If you’re not going to eat fish the day you buy it, refrigerate plastic-wrapped fish on chopped ice.
Fish has a reputation for being difficult to cook, because when overcooked it tends to taste very dry, and fish becomes overcooked more quickly than other proteins. The proteins in fish muscles, optimized for cold temperatures, can start to coagulate at room temperature, and most fish dries out around 140°F. Fish flesh is fragile because it’s low in collagen, meaning the flesh easily sticks to surfaces.
4 Types of Fatty Fish
Fish in general are lean animals, but so-called fatty fish are about 5 percent or more fat by weight and can stand up to dry-heat cooking methods such as sautéing or grilling. Fat content varies by species and even the location of a fillet, but in general, farmed fish are fattier than wild-caught fish.
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