7 Secrets to Finding the Freshest Fish

When it comes to choosing the right salmon, trout or tilapia, it's hard to know what to look for. Here's how to tell if fish is fresh!

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Gilthead bream (Sparus aurata) on ice at the seafood booth
Shutterstock / Alexander Raths

Bright, Metallic Skin

The main thing you want to look for is skin that has a metallic shine. Any discolored or dull spots indicate that the fish has probably seen better days. If you’re buying a fillet, make sure the flesh has a robust color—it becomes less vibrant as they age.

Here’s a collection of fish recipes that received top ratings from readers.

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Salmon in ice
Shutterstock / anyamay

Meat That Springs Back

Whether you’re dealing with a whole fish or a pre-cut fillet, see if you’re able to test the quality of the meat with your finger. You should be able to press down, but your fingerprint should quickly disappear as the flesh bounces back. If it remains, the fish is no longer fresh.

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Display of three kinds of fresh fish on ice in a fish market in Portland, Maine
Shutterstock / Ken Schulze

Clear Eyes

If you’re buying a whole fish, pay attention to the eyes. They should be clear and slightly bulging. While dull, sunken eyes don’t mean the fish is past its prime, it also won’t be as fresh as possible. (Add some zest with this recipe for fish tacos!)

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Fresh fish in the market
Shutterstock / Kris Tan

Firmly Connected Scales

You should be able to detect if scales are intact by looking, but if your fishmonger allows it, run your hand along them. They should stay in place and feel firmly connected to the body, almost like armor. If any scales begin to slide off, you’re dealing with an older fish.

This toasty Dijon-Crusted Fish is perfect for your weeknight rotation.

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Fresh seafood on ice at the fish market

Healthy Gills

The gills can reveal a lot about the freshness of your fish. First, make sure they are bright red and moist, rather than brown or faded. Also, check for any milky liquid around them—if you notice any slime, move on.

Did you know you can make crispy fish in your air fryer?

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Male fishmonger wearing an apron holding large and whole salmon fish in front of display counter early in the morning on a market in England.
Shutterstock / F-Stop boy

No Milky Liquid

When buying fillets, you may notice liquid on the fish. Only purchase if the liquid is clear, since, like with a whole fish’s gills, the milky coloring could be a warning that the fish is beginning to rot.

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Fresh local seafood like salmon, pompano and oysters over ice on display with metal casing creating visual rhythm.
Jacob Blount/Shutterstock

No Fishy Smell

We might associate that “fishy” smell with our go-to fishmongers or local market, but the only thing a fish should smell like is briny water, if that. Fish should smell like where they are from, whether that is a salty ocean or a freshwater lake.

Start working your way through the salmon recipes we’re crazy about!

Kim Bussing
Kim Bussing is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She has written for publications including Reader’s Digest, Modern Farmer, Clean Plates and Vice, among others, and she is working on her first novel. She is always on the hunt for the perfect gluten-free cinnamon roll.