A Fresh Take On Fish

What do you consider “fresh” fish? Is it a fish you caught in the lake and took home and cooked? Is it a fish you purchased at the fish market on the coast? Is it fish you purchased at your local fishmonger? How about frozen fish in your fishmonger’s freezer section?

Maybe you don’t think of frozen fish as “fresh.” But it was caught by fishermen who employ flash-freezing techniques at sea. The fish is caught, then immediately processed and flash-frozen at its peak freshness. It then makes its way to the fishmonger’s freezer for you to take it home, thaw it in the refrigerator and serve it at its peak freshness. Only fish caught that day are considered fresher than frozen fish.

Commercial fisherman go out to sea for days, maybe even weeks. So is that fresh? How about the fresh, not-frozen fish at the seafood counter? That fish comes from the fisherman who then sells his fish to a processor who then packs and ships the fish by truck or air to the fish market. Is this fresh? Technically it is because it has never been frozen. But it could be several days and maybe even a week since it was swimming in the water.

Hy-Vee is too far from a coast to be able to fetch same-day-caught fish. Since we are not close to any ocean, we have to rely on frozen fish to maintain quality. Our fresh fish has to be flown in and is then inspected for quality and freshness. After that, it’s sent to Hy-Vee stores to be bought by you. Hy-Vee has been selling previously frozen fish in the fish case for years.

All of our shrimp, crab and lobster come in frozen and we thaw them for sale. It’s the only way for those items to maintain quality. Wild-caught salmon comes in fresh during the season from May through October. Outside of those months, you are usually going to get previously frozen fish. Farm-raised fish comes in fresh in most cases, but it sometimes comes in previously frozen as well.

In my opinion, frozen fish is often a better choice.

By freezing fish on board the fishing vessels, fishermen lock in the quality at its peak. Plus, it does not require expensive shipping to get the fish to its final destination. It can be trucked to the store rather than flown. That means that your fish will be less expensive than fresh-flown fish.

There are times when customers just want to have that fresh Alaskan King salmon, and you can get it. However, when I traveled to Alaska and caught my own salmon, it was immediately flash frozen in a vacuum-packed sealed bag. When I pulled that fish out six months later and thawed it in the fridge, it still smelled like the sea and was as flavorful as the fish we ate that day we caught it.

Here are some recommendations for your next trip to the Hy-Vee fishmonger:

  1. Read the signs and know what is fresh and what is previously frozen. Not all frozen fish is better than fresh. Ask your Hy-Vee fishmonger for suggestions and information on when to buy frozen fish and when to buy never frozen fish.
  2. Know your seasons for fresh fish. Know when to expect fresh, flown-in fish and when to expect previously frozen fish in the case. Ask the fishmonger when they get deliveries and show up on those days.
  3. Thaw frozen fish in the refrigerator. Remove it from the vacuum-sealed package first. Never thaw it on the counter.
  4. Don’t refreeze fish that has been thawed. Cook it and then freeze it if you have to. The quality will diminish substantially if you refreeze raw fish.

Author: Dennis Frauenholz

I’m Dennis Frauenholz, seafood manager at the Iowa City No. 1 Hy-Vee store. I’ve worked for Hy-Vee for 25 years, specializing in seafood for 20 years. I have a passion for seafood that goes beyond the checkout lane. I have visited Louisiana, Washington and Alaska to experience the seafood industry firsthand. Seafood is it is constantly changing; each day brings a new species, new sustainability issues, new culinary inspirations and new customers to the seafood counter. I am proud to work for Hy-Vee, a leader in the seafood industry, and glad I’m able to share knowledge about seafood with customers.