A Guide to Buying Fish and Seafood
Because the world of fish is bigger than salmon and tuna
Food Editor at Kitchen Stories
This article is part of our monthly issue “Food for Future,” in which we invite you to join us in exploring the impact our daily eating habits have on the future of our personal lives, and the planet—because if everything we eat is a problem, what can we eat? We want to learn how far even small changes can go with informative and entertaining articles, specific tips for everyday life, and recipes that can guide the way and inspire us to take our first (and maybe even second) steps towards a more sustainable way to eat. Check out this link to find an overview of all our weekly topics, stories, recipes, and more.
When I think of fresh seafood, I am immediately brought back to my childhood and holidays spent in the south of France, surrounded by roaring cicadas, the earthy smells of pine and cedar trees, and the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean. Memories of fresh squid, mussels, and grilled sardines are among the most beautiful of my childhood—even if my first attempt with shellfish may not have been as dazzling (There are photos of me on the beach at three-years old with my dad serving me an oyster on a silver spoon—you can imagine the look on my face then!)
So this week we're turning to the shimmering world of fish and seafood. Our chef Christian paid a visit to the fishmonger he trusted, Oliver Dörpinghaus from Frische Paradies Berlin. For specialty markets and other fishmongers, the sustainability of Oliver’s products comes first. Oliver not only explained to us what to look for when buying sustainable fish and seafood, but also let us in on the many other types of seafood that’s out there.
The seafood counter and its seemingly endless cuts of fish can be intimidating for some of us. We want to unpack what it means for fish and seafood to be sustainable so you can make your choices confidently. We also hope this guide will lead you to unknown waters and steer you away from the typical salmon fillet or tuna, and towards other options that aren’t so common and given the way they’re caught and bred, have a more lasting impact on the biodiversity of our oceans.
How do I identify sustainable fish & seafood?
If we want to consume sustainably for the future, we must conserve about 90% of the fish resources currently in use. This is because the increasing overfishing of the most commonly consumed seafood and fish endangers the species, biodiversity, and also neighboring ecosystems. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you should completely cut out seafood or fish from your diet, but that you should become aware of the way you consume them.
How do you identify sustainable seafood and fish and what should you pay attention to when shopping for them? In addition to various labels and seals, you should take note of the fishing methods, breeding methods, origin, observance of closed seasons, and the current state of fish stocks. To learn more about the common labels and seals found on our fish, refer to our guide here.
Now it’s time to dive into the world of fish and seafood to see what’s all that’s out there!
9 types of seafood & fish and how to prepare them
Since shrimps reproduce quickly and have large numbers of offspring, this lowers their risk of being overfished. Nevertheless, when buying shrimp from aquacultures like farms, you should make sure it contains ASC or organic labels, preferably from Southeast Asia. In the wild, shrimps are mainly caught with bottom trawls, which not only destroy the sensitive seabed, but often also catches unwanted fish and seafood that are already threatened by overfishing.
Shrimp isn’t only incredibly tasty but is also a super versatile ingredient. Whether braised in a spicy honey sauce or fried in coconut oil, the number of ways to cook shrimp is endless. Grilled or fried, they develop a nutty and slightly sweet note that only needs a touch of garlic, fresh lemon, and salt to savor. They also add texture and aroma to a green Thai curry, taking the dish to a whole new level.
This marine fish lives in the western Mediterranean and the eastern Atlantic. Due to its high demand, its fish stock is plummeting and sea bream should only land on your plate from time-to-time as a special treat. It’s important to buy sea bream caught with handlines and fishing lines from the Northeast Atlantic or Mediterranean. Fish caught by cage, net systems, or otter trawls from the Mediterranean is strongly discouraged.
Sea bream is a firm white fish that contains a slightly spicy aroma. It can be prepared whole and filled with fresh Mediterranean herbs and lemon slices. In our recipe we poured some wine over a red sea bream, filled it with garlic, scallions, and ginger, then steamed it — simply delicious!
Steamed red gilthead
This exotic, beautiful, and somewhat strange looking predator feeds on crustaceans and mollusks, as well as small fish. It has venomous spines on its large, wide head, which can also be dangerous to humans. A prized delicacy, especially in Mediterranean cuisine, its fish stock is shrinking noticeably. So it’s best to have this fish at your table on special occasions. When picking red scorpionfish, reach for fish that are caught with hand or fishing lines from the Atlantic, and stay away from bottom trawled fish.
Red scorpionfishes are particularly delicious in soups and stews. The classic bouillabaisse from Marseille or the fish stew from Corfu are probably the most famous recipes that contain the scaly red fish. Here we have a simple version of the famous bouillabaisse for you to cook!
The scallop, also known as the pilgrim shell, was named after Saint James, the patron saint of pilgrims. It’s one of the most important mollusks in fishing. Scallops collected by hand in the Northeast Atlantic—for example in Norway—have a more gentle impact on fish stocks, so they can be eaten in moderation with a clear conscience. When you buy them, look for the blue MSC label, which certifies sustainable fishing. Like the other seafood that’s appeared on this list, you should stay away from scallops that have been caught with nets or trawled.
With its tender but firm flesh and nutty aroma, the scallop is one of the most popular mollusks. Perhaps this is because the preparation methods are as varied as they are uncomplicated. For example, all you need for pan-fried scallops is some garlic, shallots, butter, and salt. Add a little white wine or lemon juice and you now have a wonderful summer-y dish. For something a bit more filling, simply toss the scallops over linguine and some lemon butter like in the recipe below. If you need a refresher on how to sauté scallops perfectly, see our how-to here.
5-ingredient lemony brown butter linguine with scallops
Cod is a marine fish that’s native to parts of the North Atlantic, the Arctic Ocean, and the Baltic Sea. It’s one of the most highly demanded fishes worldwide and is of great importance to the fishing industry. As a result, many fish stocks are now severely endangered by overfishing. But you can occasionally prepare the delicious fish if you pay attention to a few things. Be on the lookout for the MSC label and make sure the fish is caught from the Northeast Atlantic with gillnets or longlines.
With its tender meat, cod can be easily braised, poached or glazed with a sauce of your choice. As the go-to fish for the British classic, fish and chips, it’s popular all over the world. And when baked in the oven with sweet potatoes and served alongside a white wine butter sauce, cod becomes something really special.
Of course, squids shouldn’t be missing from any good seafood recipe collection! Squids and octopuses are among the best known and most popular members of the cephalopod class.
Although squids reproduce rapidly, many species are vulnerable to overfishing, as they often have a limited range. When buying squid, make sure the squids come from the Northeast and Southeast Atlantic and are fished by hand or line, as opposed to otter trawls. Octopuses, on the other hand, are found in temperate to tropical seas worldwide, making them a more sustainable alternative. Still, you should take note of whether it was caught using sustainable fishing methods like line fishing.
Octopuses are lean with very firm flesh. In order to make it tender and soft, it’s often tenderized before cooking. Serve it in Mediterranean fish stews or rice dishes, like this traditional paella with seafood—a delicious symphony of squid, shrimp, and mussels!
Easy seafood paella
Zander is the largest perch-like freshwater fish in Europe. The predatory fish finds its home and hunting grounds in lakes, harbors, and slow-flowing rivers. In order to conserve the species as much as possible, we recommend certified cultured fish from Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland. Catching zander by hand or with fishing lines are also acceptable here.
With its rather fine and mild taste, zander is a great option for people who aren’t the biggest fish enthusiasts. Zander fillets are usually free of bones and can therefore be fried, grilled or steamed without much preparation. See this video to learn how to fillet a fish properly. Once you’ve mastered the technique, serve the filets over a lentil salad with vegetables or wrapped in bacon with a cucumber-potato salad.
Bacon-wrapped pike perch with cucumber-potato salad
The Pacific oyster is a non-native, invasive species in Europe. It can adapt quickly to environmental changes and competes with native species for food. However, overfishing has led to a decline in natural stocks and the majority of oysters worldwide now grow in suspended, pole or bottom cultures. To reduce your environmental impact, look for the ASC breeding seal when choosing oysters at the fish counter.
Nothing reminds me of past summer vacations more than freshly picked oysters with a cold glass of dry Riesling or, as is often served in France, with a picpoul de pinet. How can you describe the taste of oysters? To me, they taste like the sea, of the earthy mudflats, and the salty breeze that blows across the coast from the sea and settles on your lips. You don’t have to do much with oysters—simply drizzle them with a touch of lemon juice and serve with freshly ground pepper. Shucking oysters is perhaps what’s most difficult about preparing them, but look no further than our how-to to learn how to master the technique.
How to shuck an oyster
Like many other trouts, rainbow trouts are closely related to salmon and are typically interchangeable in recipes. Originally from North America, it was introduced to Switzerland at the end of the 19th century. When buying rainbow trout, look for those from Polish or Danish ponds or flow systems, and ones that contain the ASC label—although it’s best if they are also certified organic.
Rainbow trout from breeding grounds are mainly what’s offered in stores today. The meat is white, tender, and spicy. As in this classic Muellerin-style recipe, this fish is generally the perfect serving size for one person.
Trout Müllerin with purple potato purée
We hope this article will help you be more confident when it comes to buying fish and seafood. Which fish—apart from salmon and tuna—do you like to buy? Let us know in the comments!
Published on June 24, 2020