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What To Look for in Fresh Fish?

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Do you know what to look for in a fresh tomato?

If yes, you already know what to look for in fresh fish.

But before we delve into the details, let's discuss freshness.


Contrary to popular belief, the freshest fish is sometimes the best choice. Tuna, for example, needs at least five days to develop its full flavor. The same goes for salmon. Some white fish, like halibut, is inedible when it's freshly caught—lacking flavor and with tough flesh that's difficult to chew.

How and What to Look for in Sushi/Sashimi Grade Fish

The FDA has no "official" term for Sushi Grade and Sashimi Grade fish. When you hear someone refer to fish as Sushi Grade, it simply means it is suitable for raw consumption. At supermarkets, you might come across signs that say "Sashimi Salmon" or "Sushi Salmon"—those are the types of fish you can eat raw. If it only says "Salmon," it is meant for cooked consumption.

What to Look for in Sushi/Sashimi/Raw Consumption Fish?

First and foremost, consult your fishmonger. As Paul Johnson, the owner of the Monterey Fish Market, suggests: "Trust your fishmonger, just like you trust the sushi chef at a sushi restaurant. When you buy fish, you should do the same. Develop a relationship with a fishmonger at a small market and ask many questions about what's good. When you find something good, tell them the next time you visit."

I couldn't agree more with his advice.

Next, look for labels that indicate "Sushi," "Sashimi," or "for raw consumption."

However, it takes years of experience, observing fish, and tasting fish to develop the ability to visually determine if a particular fish is suitable for sushi and sashimi. While this book may provide you with knowledge on what to look for, there is still a difference between knowing and being able to assess it visually.

Looking for a fresh fish is akin to looking for a fresh tomato: vibrant colors, firm and bouncy texture, and a lovely reflection are the indicators of freshness—just like with fish.

Whole Fish

Check for bright red gills. As fish age, their gills darken. Since the gills are exposed to bacteria in the water, they are the first part of the fish to deteriorate.


The eyes should be crystal clear as if you can see the bottom of the ocean. There should be no signs of blood or redness. As the fish ages, the eyes become "cloudier."


Fresh fish exhibits bright colors, not cloudiness. For tuna, look for a deep red color that is clear. As tuna ages, the color tends to become muddy or slightly blackish. If it's a white fish, the flesh will turn cloudy white.


Fresh fish contains a significant amount of water, giving its flesh a firm texture. When you press on the meat, it should bounce back. As fish ages, it loses water from its cells, causing the flesh to become softer and lose its firmness.


Like firmness, fresh fish reflects more light due to its higher water content. Older fish, on the other hand, reflect less light. Fresh fish always appears shiny, especially on its skin.


Interested in learning more about making sushi?

Breakthrough Sushi now offers online sushi making class with a sushi kit, delivered to your home.

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