Straight from two of New York City’s ultimate fish experts, here are the five things you should always do and say when you deal with your neighborhood fishmonger.
— Eric Ripert, a Michelin-starred chef and author of a new memoir, 32 Yolks: from My Mother’s Table to Working the Line.
— Vinny Milburn, co-owner of Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co.
1. The skin test
Look for translucent flesh on every single fillet—if the flesh is opaque, beige, or white, it’s been burned by contact with ice and water, so “it will have less flavor, juices, and texture,” says Ripert.
2. The smell test
Always ask to smell the fish before buying. “The pros do this, so don’t be ashamed to do it, too—it will alert your fishmonger right away that you know fish,” says Ripert. “It should smell of a light breeze on the clean ocean in the early morning.” If it smells too fishy, it isn’t fresh caught, so bacteria has already gone to work on it.
3. The inquisition
If you ask about a fish’s history, and the seller replies, “It’s $14.99 a pound,” walk out, says Milburn. “A fishmonger who gives a shit about his fish should know where and when it was caught, when it came in—everything about the chain of custody on the way to his shop.”
4. The tag check
For shellfish lovers: Always ask the fishmonger to show you the “harvest tag,” which is required by federal law to accompany each and every shipment of shellfish to show where it was sourced and when, says Milburn. The most recent will be the freshest and best. And if you’re told there’s no tag? Go somewhere else—fast.
5. The extra mile
Never feel guilty asking a fishmonger to remove the bones from a fish—it’s his job, says Ripert. And definitely do it for a couple of home-cooked fillets. Sure, bones may add a little bit of flavor, but it’s not enough to warrant the effort. “And you have the benefit of not fighting with the bones in your mouth.”