Seafood Handling Tips

Raptis Fish Markets

How To Buy Seafood

The most important advice is to buy your seafood from a reputable retailer…  Choose someone that you trust and that has the turnover to ensure fresh product, staff and systems in-place to handle and care-take the seafood – so it is kept in premium condition for sale. Customers are unable to handle the seafood prior to purchasing for health reasons, so listed are several tips that will assist when choosing your product in a retail environment.

Smell – Seafood, in general should have a fragrant clean smell of the ocean, with a soft seafood aroma (this varies in depth from specie to specie). The fragrance of spoiled seafood varies as some species the 'out of date odour' is a sweet almost fruity aroma and some an ammonia – chlorine odour. The underlying similarity is a pungent unnatural odour.

Appearance – Seafood, in general should be visually in good condition (without any physical damage or bruising) and have that 'just caught look'. It should look fresh, with moist flesh and firm texture, and should have a natural colour, clean clear shiny shell (if applicable). No signs of discolouration or dryness. Not have any unnatural residue / slime on the surface. Some seafood have a natural protective slime. This protective slime should be clear not opaque or white.

Bring an esky – One of the biggest mistakes people make is purchasing fresh seafood and not handling it correctly for the journey home. If you are not going to use / eat the seafood immediately then you must make sure the product is kept at the correct temperature for the journey home. Don't leave your seafood in the car whilst you do the rest of your shopping!

The 'EYES' are the window to the soul…

For health reasons you are unable to handle the product before you purchase it  so the best way to check for freshness when buying whole fish is the EYES & GILLS. The eyes should be clear & plump (not sunken or discoloured). They should look elastic & firm. The gills should be red in colour, the scales intact, firm and shiny. Fish fillets and cutlets should have a moist flesh, firm texture with a 'just out of the water' fresh appearance to them. Avoid those with sunken, discoloured eyes and grey gills.

Sometimes however, when fresh fish have been buried in crushed ice their eyes can look a little cloudy. Some when line caught fish are brought to the surface too quickly it causes them to pop their eyes, this is a natural occurrence and does not effect the quality of the fish. This is normal and is not an indication of age. The grey gills shows the blood has turned in colour and is a good tell tale sign of 'out of the water age'. Fish fillets should have no signs of discolouration or dryness.

About Prawns / Shrimp

Prawns are sold either uncooked (green) or ready-to-eat (cooked). The cooked (ready-to-eat) prawns’ species will vary in colour from light pinkish – to dark orange-red (wild-caught and farmed also vary in colour as farmed prawns are generally and naturally lighter in colour).

Green prawns come both fresh and frozen (but most commonly frozen and thawed for your convenience) ask your retailer if these are fresh or frozen as it is not recommended to re-freeze thawed prawns.

Well managed frozen prawns can be every bit as delightful as fresh prawns and in some cases they can even be fresher – as larger vessels catch-cook-and freeze onboard.

To keep that locked-in delicious ocean taste when thawing your frozen prawns (both cooked and green) it is recommended to swim the product in a light brine (salty iced water). Add sea salt to a tub of icy water, taste it, and when you think it tastes like the sea toss in your frozen prawns to thaw.

How To Buy Prawns / Shrimp - What To Look For!

The prawns should have a soft seafood smell with a mild smell of the sea, they should be in visually good condition (without any physical damage or bruising) their shells should be firm and have that clear – shiny ‘just caught look’. Avoid product that has discolouration or dryness and any unnatural residue or slime on the surface. Some prawn species have a naturally dark head such as Endeavour Prawns or may have been on a feeding frenzy just before being caught and will have a lot of coloured substance in their head. But generally prawns that have a very dark black head are to be avoided, as they may have been treated with metabisulphite (A group of compounds used as food and drug preservatives that is known to evoke a severe allergic response in sensitive individuals. Reputable retailers avoid using such enhancers / chemicals.

Keeping Your Seafood In The Fridge

Most importantly 'fresh is best' and seafood where possible should be consumed immediately where possible. It is not always practical for us to eat our seafood straight away so here are some tips to help you keep the seafood in prime condition. There are several important factors to keeping seafood in the fridge.

General

Always make sure the seafood is covered appropriately, see below (this stops the seafood odour effecting your open dairy products). Never allow seafood to sit in its own juice, make sure you have the seafood draining (and tip out the drained juices frequently). Cover seafood with ice and place in the coldest part of your fridge – which is usually the bottom shelf, seafood is best refrigerated at 0 – 4 degrees centigrade. It is not a good practice to allow any seafood to sit in its own juices for any length of time. The seafood will start a natural chemical reaction in the juices turning the product off (or start to decompose).

Whole Fish

If the fish is in the glad bake paper for a very short time (eg; waiting for the oven to heat up) then it is ok to store it on a dinner plate covered with a sheet of glad bake. If you are keeping it in the fridge for longer then make sure  the fish is placed in away that the juises can be drained and removed frequently. Cover with a sheet of silicone paper (glad bake) – not glad wrap. The paper can just be loosely over the fish you don't need to wrap it. The paper creates both an odour barrier to stop the seafood odour leeching into your open dairy products and barrier to stop the fridge from drying out your fish.

Fish Fillets 

Ideally it should be stored in a container that allows drainage. Raptis sells a great container in the Seafood Market but if you don't have anything suitable try this tip, you will need a small bread & butter plate, an extra large dinner plate and silicone paper (glad bake). Place the bread and butter plate upside down on top of the dinner plate, lay the fillets over the bread and butter plate. This method allows you to easily drain off the juices that have collected around the rim of the dinner plate. Prawns / Shrimp, Crabs, etc.  Use the Raptis special drain containers that are available in our seafood market or try this: Place the prawns in a large colander (large strainer) put a plastic container / bowl or tray underneath to catch the juices and cover the prawns / crab with a little ice and a sheet of glad bake paper.

Freezing Seafood

The most important thing when freezing seafood is to make sure the seafood is as fresh as possible. Before freezing, prepare fish as for use, if you want to serve in fillet form, then it is best filleted before freezing.

Whole Fish

Must be gilled and gutted first. Scales can be left on as these act as an insulator retaining flavour and moisture. However, if scaling is done beforehand it is one less step of preparation before cooking the fish. Whole fish can be trimmed and wrapped in plastic wrap, (put extra plastic wrap over the fins that may have potential to puncture the freezer bag), then place in a freezer bag. Remove air from the bag (a freezer pump is ideal) and seal. This will help prevent the fish from dying out and excess ice forming inside the bag. Lay flat in freezer.  Label and date.

Prawns / Shrimp

The ideal way to freeze prawns is in frozen block form. Prawns can be frozen raw (green) or cooked. Best is to leave the shell and head on, as this acts as an insulator. Place prawns in a freezer proof container i.e. plastic freezer ware, filling the container to three quarters with product and leaving room for water to be added. Cover with cold water, seal with lid and tape around lid. Label and date.

Thawing Seafood

Here are several ways for you to thaw seafood quickly and safely.

Whole Fish

Thaw in the refrigerator (preferably the top shelf / the warmest part of the fridge). Make sure the draining water is caught in a container and the product is not sitting in its own juice. Remove the draining juices frequently

Prawns / Shrimp

Use the same method as above however the preferable method is: 

- Make a brine: Fill your sink with coldtap water and tip in enough ice to create an icy slurry. Add a little rock salt, dip your finger in and taste the water. If it tastes like the sea then you have yourself a brine. 
- Take your prawns out of the container (in the block), place into the brine.
- As the prawns become free from the block and are loose in the brine, check frequently. When they are firm but not solid then take them out of the brine and put into a strainer or bowl and serve. Or put back in the fridge on the bottom shelf using the fridge storing method above.

How To... ?

Clean Sand Crab or Mud Crab

Twist out large nippers crack out the pincer end of the claw with the back end of a heavy knife. Remove the back shell by lifting the under flap and peeling back the top shell. Under cold running water clean away the gills and viscera. Cut the body in half and then cut between the legs to the centre – to expose the flesh.

Peel a Prawn / Shrimp

Hold the body firmly just behind the head then twist off the head. Pull back the legs removing the centre section of the shell in the same motion. Squeeze the tail segment and gently pull out the flesh. Applying this peeling method will give you more usable prawn flesh!

We hope these tips help. If you would like more information visit the Queensland Seafood Industry Association website.

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