Once you have decided to bring some fresh seafood into your home or restaurant, there are things you need to know in order to get the most out of your product. Shelf life depends on the practices of the person caring for the product just as much as the freshness of the fish. Ideally, the seafood will be cooked and eaten on the day of purchase. But if it won't get used for a day or two, there are steps you can take to maintain the product until eaten.
Upon arriving in the kitchen, whole fish should be removed from its wrapping, rinsed in very cold water and patted dry. Rinsing will help to cut down on natural bacteria that are present externally on the fish. When dealing with whole fish, for best results, the fish should immediately be gutted prior to refrigeration because the entrails will decay rapidly and ruin the flavor and quality of the fish. Gutting is simple: take a sharp knife or shears and starting at the fish’s anus, cut up through the fish’s belly to its gills, pull out the innards and rinse the body cavity so there are no remaining parts attached inside. Or, fillet the fish if you aren’t using a whole fish preparation. Fillets may be rinsed, dried and wrapped in a similar fashion.
Whole fish and fillets should always be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator. It is generally recommended that for optimal quality, fish is prepared as soon as possible. However, with care, ultra fresh fish can remain excellent for up to 3 days. But in order to maintain that quality, the fish should be rinsed and patted dry each day. Most sources recommend wrapping fish and fillets tightly in plastic or butcher paper and placing them in a tray over crushed ice; if you elect to use this method please note that the flesh should not come in direct contact with the ice itself and that the ice must be replenished as it melts and breaks down. Do not let the fish sit in water. Prolonged direct contact with ice and water can quickly damage the color, texture and flavor of the fish. With each day, the paper or plastic wrap must get changed as well. You can use plastic containers as well, just change them daily.
Freezing Your Seafood
Fresh Fish & Fillets can be frozen if necessary. The best practice is to rinse and dry the fish and then vacuum seal and freeze immediately upon receipt. Freezer bags are acceptable for short term storage – making sure to press all the air out to minimize the risk of freezer burn. Fish should be consumed no later than 6 months but is considered optimal up until 2 weeks. For best results, fish should be thawed in refrigeration 1-2 days prior to use; never thaw at room temperature or in a microwave as it will greatly diminish quality. While some recommend running cold water over it to thaw it out, this is a practice that is usually done in a pinch (perhaps the one exception to this are frozen shrimp, which seem to withstand coming up to temperature this way without too much loss of quality). Some even say you can cook frozen fillets without thawing them first but if you do so, take care as you will likely not get great results. It is our recommendation that live shellfish should not be frozen (a typical home refrigerator is not cold enough to reliably do so). If you have bought a pre-packaged, frozen seafood item, place it immediately into the freezer and follow the package directions to thaw.
Handling Live Lobster and Shellfish
Typically, shelffish harvested from colder, Northern waters will have a longer shelf life than if harvested from warmer waters.
Product is live. Store in refrigeration upon receipt, covered in seaweed (included in shipment), damp towels or newspaper. DO NOT store in fresh water or ice and do not store in air tight plastic containers or bags. Live Lobsters should be cooked within 24 hours of receipt. We reccomend that you shouldn't eat a lobster that has been dead for more than 2 hours. You should never eat a lobster that has been dead for more than 12 hours.
Product is live. Healthy mussels will be open slightly. To check if they are alive, simply tap on the shell and they should slowly close. Discard mussels that have been broken or still remain open after being tapped. Store in refrigeration upon receipt, preferably in a mesh bag, covered in damp towels or paper. DO NOT store in fresh water and do not store in air tight plastic containers or bags. DO NOT eat any cooked mussels whose shells remain closed. Best when prepared day of arrival.
Product is live. Discard clams that have broken or are open. Store in refrigeration upon receipt, covered in damp towels or paper. DO NOT store in fresh water or ice and do not store in air tight plastic containers or bags. Best when prepared day of arrival.
Product is live. Discard oysters that have broken or still remain open after pressing on their shell. Store in refrigeration upon receipt, covered in damp towels or paper, preferably so they lie flat. DO NOT store in fresh water or ice and do not store in air tight plastic containers or bags. Best when prepared day of arrival, oysters will live up to 8 days in refrigeration.
Caring for Caviar
Caviar should be kept in the coldest part of your refrigerator and should never be frozen. It will keep best in the coldest part of your refrigerator unopened for 4-6 weeks and once opened for 3 days. Air is caviar’s number one enemy. Ideally it is best to purchase containers you will consume in a single sitting. Thus you may want to consider a couple of smaller tins rather than one larger one.
Selecting Fresh Seafood
Buying seafood is often more challenging than cooking it. That's why more than two-thirds of all seafood is consumed in restaurants. The main reason people are hesitant to prepare seafood at home is because they are apprehensive about purchasing it. At Hudson Valley Seafood, we believe an informed shopper is a more comfortable shopper, so keep these factors in mind when shopping for fish and shellfish...
Fresh, unfrozen fish generally smells like seawater or cucumber. If it gives off a strong, objectionable odor, it's past its prime. Finfish should have firm, elastic flesh that is unmarred. Any exposed flesh should appear freshly cut without traces of browning or drying out. The skin should be moist with unfaded characteristic markings and the colors of that species. If the fish has scales, they should adhere closely to the skin and should not be dry or "ruffled" looking. Plan to use fresh fish within two days of purchase. Maximum quality in fresh fish is maintained if fish is wrapped and packed in ice to prevent moisture loss. If you are unable to use the fish within two days, go ahead and cook or freeze it. Cooked fish maintains quality in the refrigerator at 32-34 Fahrenheit for two to three days. But it never tastes as good as when cooked and eaten that day. Also, reheating can be tricky as the key to preparing seafood is to not overcook it.
Frozen fish should be solidly frozen. Avoid fish with white, dehydrated areas, as this is a sign of freezer burn. Examine the package for ice crystals that may form around the inside of the package or be concentrated in one area of the package. Both of these indicate a moisture loss from the fish flesh and this is most likely the result of thawing and refreezing. The fish should be wrapped in a moisture-proof and vapor-proof material. Fish wrapped in plastic is generally better if the plastic is vacuum-packed rather than over-wrapped. High-quality frozen fish will have very little or no odor.
Note: never thaw fish at room temperature, and never refreeze. Thaw frozen fish by placing in the refrigerator, allowing 18-24 hours per one-pound package to thaw. For a quicker thawing method, place fish under cold, running water.
Clams and Mussels
These mollusks should be alive when sold. It's easy to tell if they are alive because their shells will be closed. If the shells are gaping open, give them a quick tap. This will prompt live clams and mussels to tightly close their shells. They will also give off a sweet smell. Mollusks should be iced or refrigerated between 34-40 degrees Fahrenheit. At home, store them dry and uncovered in a pot or bowl in the refrigerator. Be sure they have room to breathe — never store them in a plastic bag where they will suffocate.
Fresh oysters are sold shucked or in the shell. Oysters must be alive if purchased in the shell, indicated by shells that close tightly when handled. Live oysters are sold by the dozen or by the bag containing approximately one bushel. Live oysters will remain alive from seven to 10 days if stored without ice in the refrigerator at 35-40 Fahrenheit. Shucked oysters are graded and sold according to size, usually in pints or gallons. Fresh shucked oysters are plump and have a natural creamy color and clear liquid. If properly handled and packed in ice in the refrigerator, freshly shucked oysters will maintain quality for about a week. We don’t recommend that you freeze oysters at home, simply because they freeze too slowly in a home freezer to produce a satisfactory product.
Only two percent of shrimp is sold fresh, and most is sold within 50 miles of the coast. Hudson Valley Seafood goes to great lengths to make fresh shrimp available to our customers. Fresh shrimp maintain a firm texture and mild scent. Remember that raw, headless shrimp in the shell maintain quality during freezing longer than frozen, cooked shrimp. But regardless, our fresh shrimp is the way to go. You haven't truly experienced shrimp unless you've had fresh shrimp. And for much of the year, we've got it.
Live lobsters should be active and should curl their tails under when picked up. Frozen lobster should be completely frozen. Thaw them according to frozen fish instructions.
Fresh hard-shelled crabs are sold either alive or as cooked meat (fresh or pasteurized). If you purchase live crabs, make sure they show movement. Fresh soft-shell crabs should have a moist appearance and be free of odor. When purchasing frozen soft-shell blue crabs, make sure they are solidly frozen.
Fresh or pasteurized crabmeat has a very mild odor and should be used within one to two days of purchase. It will maintain quality better if packed in ice in the refrigerator. Pasteurized crabmeat must be kept under refrigeration, just like fresh crabmeat.