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Food

Chef Thomas Keller’s Tips for Buying the Best Fish

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 2 min read

Buying whole fish can be intimidating, but don’t be afraid to get up close and use your senses to select the freshest fish. And if you get even a whiff of that fishy smell, err on the side of caution and opt for a different place to ensure you get the highest quality fish.

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4 Reasons to Cook With a Whole Fish

Many recipes, including Chef Keller’s recipes, call for whole fresh fish. Most of us are used to cooking fish that has already been filleted, saving us the trouble of breaking down a whole fish. If you’ve never worked with whole fish, there are a few great reasons to try it out.

  1. Presentation: Cooking a whole fish, such as Chef Keller’s Salt-Baked Branzino, is an easy way to impress dinner guests.
  2. Practice butchery: You may not be able to break down an entire cow into its component parts at home, but you sure can learn how to fillet a small sea bass!
  3. Extras: Whole fish comes with the head, bones, and other parts that you won’t necessarily be serving, they can add flavor and gelatin to fish stock and stews such as bouillabaisse.
  4. Quality control: When you’re looking at the whole fish, you can easily observe the skin and eyes as an indicator for freshness (the clear eyes should be bulging and glassy—not shrunken—and the fish should have shiny skin and firm scales—not flaking).

Chef Thomas Keller’s Tips for Purchasing Whole Fish

  • Look for clear and bulging eyes and flesh that rebounds quickly to the touch.
  • The gills should be uniformly pink and slightly slimy.
  • Try to avoid purchasing frozen fish or frozen fin fish, as their quality usually suffers from freezing; however, frozen crustaceans (e.g., shrimp) may be acceptable. (Lobsters, however, should always be purchased live.) Find our guide on purchasing clams and mussels for more advice on buying fish.
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Chef Thomas Keller’s Tips for Storing Whole Fish

Once you’ve brought home the perfect whole fish from the fish market or fishmonger, you’ll want to keep it fresh until it’s time to cook.

  • Store fish on top of ice in a perforated container set over a deeper container to allow the melting ice to drain and avoid immersing the fsh in water.
  • Chef Keller recommends storing round fish in the same position in which it swims; when you store fish on its side and cover it with ice, the weight and pressure of the ice can damage the flesh.

Want to Become a Better Chef?

Whether you’re just learning the difference between braising and broiling, or you already know how to sear a duck breast to perfection, mastering cooking techniques takes patience and practice. No one knows this better than Chef Thomas Keller, who has won more Michelin stars than any chef in America. In Chef Keller’s third MasterClass, the founder of The French Laundry and Per Se teaches you the underlying techniques of making great food so you can go beyond the cookbook. Learn how to prepare seafood, perfect sous vide cooking, make classic desserts, and bring Michelin star-quality meals to your kitchen.

Want to learn more about the culinary arts? The MasterClass Annual Membership provides exclusive video lessons from master chefs including Chef Thomas Keller, Dominique Ansel, Massimo Bottura, Gordon Ramsay, Alice Waters, and more.

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