Most organic products will at some stage emit a noticeable smell. From the wonderful fragrances of the garden plants, to the powerful pungency of the compost heap. However fresh fish can occasionally be found on sale with a tainted smell.
What causes fish to smell?
Enzymes exist in the gut of the living fish. They help to convert the food into muscle and energy. However when the fish dies the enzymes carry on working and help the bacteria in the gut of the fish to penetrate the stomach wall. The bacteria also exist on the skin of the fish, so penetration of the flesh can take place from both within and outside the fish. Whilst these bacteria are harmless to human beings, the eating quality of the flesh will deteriorate and the smell will increase dramatically. The higher the storage temperature, and the longer the period that the fish is not cleaned, will speed up the loss of quality.
How can the deterioration be reduced?
In the ideal circumstances freshly caught fish can have a shelf life of up to 12 days, without showing signs of loss of quality. Upon being caught fish should have their guts and gills, and also the scales and fins removed. The fish should then be thoroughly washed to remove any traces of blood. Then stored in ice or in a refrigerator at below 5 degrees Celsius. In the case of most “factory ships” this process will take place within 30 minutes of landing the catching the fish, with rapid freezing and packing following shortly afterwards. Which makes it ironic that the freshest tasting fish that you can buy will likely be frozen!
However the practice can vary for most non frozen fish that is on sale. In the case of the larger fishing fleets fish will be up to eight days old when landed. Whilst in most cases it will have been kept under refrigeration to slow down the deterioration, cleaning will not have taken place and the break down of the flesh will have started.
What to look for in buying fresh fish?
You should select a supplier who ideally can satisfy all the essential criteria, of the fish being freshly caught that day and gutted, finned, scaled, washed and chilled at sea. This will probably result in the fish being slightly more expensive, but you will be purchasing a top quality product. Fresh fish on sale in the small ports and harbours is more likely to meet the top standards than the fish on sale at the large super stores, simply because of the extended delivery times to reach the point of sale for the latter.
Standards anything short of these criteria will result in fish having started to deteriorate, and the first sign will be the bad smell.
About the author: Henry Lord is a fanatical enthusiast and lover of all things seafood. He has been a professional chef for nearly twenty five years, so has experienced many traditional and innovative ways to cook and present food. He is also keen to promote seafood as a healthy source of our daily eating needs. The website Cooking Seafood at Home is written by him. It provides lots of tips on all aspects to helping you put a great seafood meal in front of your family or friends.