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What's the appeal of live seafood?

k
kimcheater Feb 4, 2007 12:28 PM

I often read posts raving about how "fresh" a place is just because someone takes a fish or crustacean out of a tank, but I've always found so-called live seafood to be rather lacking in the flavor department. I'd much rather have an animal that's been living and eating in the sea (albeit likely farmed, I know), than stressing and starving (and crapping, no less) in a tiny, tiny tank. My dad was a commercial fisherman, and I've grown up eating seafood, and neither of us have ever preferred anything "fresh" from the tank to anything that was brought in that morning from the distributor. And in the seafood-eating cultures that I know, that seems to be the preference as well.

Anyone else here confused by all thus hubbub? I think it's all just a marketing ploy, but I wonder if anyone else has tried comparing the two, either side-by-side or blind.

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    FlavoursGal RE: kimcheater Feb 4, 2007 01:58 PM

    kimcheater, for those of us whose largest body of water nearby is freshwater - in my case, Lake Ontario - seafood-out-of-a-tank is the closest we get to fresh-from-the-ocean.

    Us inland folks don't have the luxury of dockside-to-restaurant sameday seafood delivery.

    1. k
      Kater RE: kimcheater Feb 5, 2007 07:00 AM

      Lobsters illustrate your point quite nicely. While many supermarkets, Asian markets and even retro restaurants keep a lobster tank, the specimens within may be technically 'fresh' when cooked but the quality is poor. Living in a tank is not at all the same as living in a natural habitat and product quality absolutely declines in captivity! Quality lobsters are easily had from genuine lobstermen (not huge retailers like Lobstergram and that sort of thing) who will mail them to your home or you can even buy frozen tails which will often be better than some sorry fellow who's been in a tank at the Shop 'n Save for siz months.

      OTOH I have purchased live eels (well they were live when I chose them but the guy behind the counter rectified that for me) and thought they were quite good but I've never bought them any other way so I don't know if a superior prepared product is available at the fishmonger.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Kater
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        bulavinaka RE: Kater Mar 14, 2007 09:40 PM

        I agree... the tanks that the vast majority of seafood is held in are much too crowded, with questionable filtration. Often times one can see a buildup of bubbles on the water surface, which means that protein wastes are building up beyond the capacity of the water and filtration (if any) and the organisms are probably being stressed out by lack of proper diet, cramped living conditions, poor water quality, lack of dissolved oxygen, and high amounts of ammonia and nitrites. This probably results in seafood whose tissues are far too taxed with the aforementioned toxins. I personally think it's alot more about show. Your best bet on live lobsters is probably to have them sent to you fresh via express.

      2. h
        houdini RE: kimcheater Feb 5, 2007 08:28 AM

        Considering I live where I can't even get a whole fish, just filets, I'd love a place with a tank and live fish!!

        1 Reply
        1. re: houdini
          k
          Kater RE: houdini Feb 5, 2007 09:43 AM

          Well filets can be just fine depending on the source. My favorite fishmonger doesn't show any whole fish in his case, though he will sell me a whole fish if I call in advance. His quality is wonderful and I'm happy that he's done the work to break the fish down for me.

          Do you have a fish market anywhere nearby? In our area, in addition to stand-alone fishmarkets (some good, some bad) our indoor farmer's/specialty markets usually have at least one fish counter and most of them are great. Also, you can get much better fish as many Asian markets than is available at the grocery store. Have you tried all of these approaches already?

        2. k
          kimcheater RE: kimcheater Feb 7, 2007 11:22 AM

          True, the situation does get a bit more complicated if you live further inland. But if the logistics are there to bring over live seafood and then put it in a tank, surely the logistics are there to bring over very recently caught seafood?

          I live in New York, and I doubt much of the seafood here came from a boat right before it hit market (if it came from a boat at all, that is--and if it's in a tank, I doubt that it was ever wild, some crustaceans excepted). So as long as there's an airport nearby (Toronto? Buffalo? Rochester?), and enough demand, I think one could do okay.

          And the problem with filets, I think, are probably not a function of freshness so much as cut/quality (although, of course, the fish keeps better if it's not hacked up first). Can you get frozen whole fish? Flash-freezing is pretty much standard these days, even with sushi. In fact, a flash-frozen wild fish, properly thawed, seems much more appealing over something farmed, stressed, and starved.

          3 Replies
          1. re: kimcheater
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            FlavoursGal RE: kimcheater Feb 7, 2007 11:59 AM

            kimcheater, we do have a few fishmongers who bring in fresh fish, and those in the know are aware which day to shop for the newly-arrived fish. We also have Whole Foods and other purveyors who carry very fresh fish.

            When it comes to crustaceans, however, tanks are the only way we can get our fix of lobster, crab, etc.

            1. re: kimcheater
              h
              houdini RE: kimcheater Feb 14, 2007 01:03 PM

              I wish! I think the reason they sell fillets is that you can't see the fish they came from and so they have a longer "shelf" life. I'm Buffalo and simply cannot find whole fish anywhere.

              1. re: houdini
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                FlavoursGal RE: houdini Feb 14, 2007 01:31 PM

                Even at Whole Foods?

            2. m
              MakingSense RE: kimcheater Feb 7, 2007 07:00 PM

              If you prefer cage-free eggs, free-range poultry, beef and pork, how can you justify fish-tank fish and shellfish?
              Am I missing something?

              6 Replies
              1. re: MakingSense
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                FlavoursGal RE: MakingSense Feb 7, 2007 07:13 PM

                Correct me if I'm wrong, but is it not impossible to keep crustaceans alive after they've been trapped without the use of tanks?

                Perhaps Chicago should ban lobster from restaurant menus, too.

                1. re: FlavoursGal
                  m
                  MakingSense RE: FlavoursGal Feb 7, 2007 07:38 PM

                  No, New England lobstermen ship them all the time. They can live for several days in damp seaweed. I've done several clambakes for as many as 400 people in Washington with live lobsters and clams shipped from Maine.
                  I buy live clams and mussels on ice at the market regularly.
                  Blue crabs are sent from the Gulf Coast or Carolinas live to the Chesapeake Bay area when the Bay season closes or to supplement local catches in season. They stay alive for several days before being steamed locally. Soft shells stay alive as long as a week or more after they're removed from the water. If they're left in the water, their shells harden. They begin to deteriorate after you clean them or they die.
                  Oysters used to be shipped inland by barge and trains, by boats on the Great Lakes or up the Mississipi. They were available in St. Louis and Chicago in the 1800s. Oysters will keep several weeks out of water.
                  I have a house on the Chesapeake and the three local brokers ship the crabs and oysters far inland, much of it going to the wholesale market and auction. It's several days before they reach chain stores like Whole Foods or Safeway although they will be in independent fish markets much sooner.

                  1. re: MakingSense
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                    FlavoursGal RE: MakingSense Feb 8, 2007 04:59 AM

                    Thanks for this info, Making Sense. I'm just wondering, however, if it's any more humane to keep lobsters crammed together out of water in a seaweed-stuffed box than it is to keep them in a holding tank until needed.

                    1. re: FlavoursGal
                      k
                      Kater RE: FlavoursGal Feb 8, 2007 05:13 AM

                      When you buy lobsters from a lobsterman he catches your crustaceans the day that he ships them. They spend one day in the box and are usually eaten the day that they arrive. We usually give our lobsters free-range of the kitchen counters for a time before they meet the pot because they are kept very cold during shipping and should be brought fully out of stasis before you cook them. I don't know why - I just listen to the lobsterman who tells me to do this!

                      Lobsters in a holding tank are there for a good long time. It is not a pleasant environment. They are kept with their claws bound in a space that is far too small, in water that won't kill them but is not realy the right environment for them. This is not humane, particularly because they're not in any distress in their seaweed boxes and they seem to really enjoy roaming around the kitchen!

                      1. re: FlavoursGal
                        m
                        MakingSense RE: FlavoursGal Feb 8, 2007 08:12 AM

                        That's a good question, FlavoursGal. Maybe a brief time being shipped live and then used fresh is better for lobsters and other seafood than being kept as "pets." After a day or so, stores can offer them for sale cooked or frozen.
                        The quality absolutely declines rapidly when they're kept in tanks. A lot of stores are getting rid of seafood tanks and other live seafood sales. They are hard to maintain and there have been complaints by animal rights groups. Whole Foods discontinued the sale of live soft shell crabs last year, only selling dead or frozen ones.

                        1. re: MakingSense
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                          FlavoursGal RE: MakingSense Feb 8, 2007 09:58 AM

                          Thanks, Making Sense and Kater. I've learned quite a bit from this discussion.

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                  fooddude37 RE: kimcheater Feb 8, 2007 10:09 AM

                  The seafood distributor plays a huge role in this. Many seafood processing companies have their own jumbo sized lobster tank with their own system of product rotation. Seafood purveyors are, generally speaking, under a ton of scrutiny in regards to date of capture, processing, storage, etc. I think the only way to really find the best quality is to shop around. There's a lot of factors in receiving excellent quality seafood. You're right in observing that just because something is alive in water, does not mean that it's good quality.

                  Certain shellfish like spot prawns must either be kept live in water, or quickly decapitated and FAS (frozen at sea) because there is some process involved with the head (someone educate me here) that if they're not quickly killed and pulled apart then the tail meat becomes mushy. I have to say that fresh, live spot prawns are a luxury. It feels a little predatory, but pull one apart and suck out the still living guts sometime...it's like seafood candy.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: fooddude37
                    m
                    MakingSense RE: fooddude37 Feb 8, 2007 11:21 AM

                    I can tell you about shrimp because I grew up shrimping for fun in South Louisiana. We went almost every week during the summer. (And we ate them raw just as you did.)
                    Seafood markets in the coastal South sell head-on shrimp too. That's the only way you can guarantee they're really fresh. The head is tightly attached to the body. Shrimp are very perishable and as soon as they start to get old, the head-body connection gets loose, and you're right that the meat has also begun to get mushy. Wild-caught, headless FAS shrimp are the best if you don't live very close to shrimping grounds. They are frozen as soon as they're out of the water. Frozen shrimp from good farms are also generally of excellent quality. So-called "fresh" shrimp if you are far from the areas where shrimp are caught and in season are unlikely to be really fresh. They are several days old at a minimum or have been previously frozen at some point. You are better off buying good quality frozen and defrosting them properly yourself.
                    I can't see any sense in confining shimp in a tank. Shrimp freeze extremely well. Either cook them within a day or two of catch or freeze them.

                  2. raytamsgv RE: kimcheater Feb 8, 2007 12:47 PM

                    I personally can't tell the difference between "live" seafood versus seafood that was killed earlier in the morning. However, I can often tell if seafood has been frozen, because it seems that some fishes freeze better than others. Some of my friends swear that live prawns from the tank taste better than frozen ones.

                    1. k
                      kimcheater RE: kimcheater Feb 9, 2007 09:49 AM

                      My understanding with shrimp is that the reason why it's decapitated is because the vast majority of buyers don't want the head, but maybe it has something to do with sodium absorption during processing. I've had the luxury of having wild shrimp flash-frozen with the head on, and its mouth-feel is truly spectacular.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: kimcheater
                        m
                        MakingSense RE: kimcheater Feb 9, 2007 10:09 AM

                        I think there's something to that. I have been in fishmarkets where head-on shrimp were offered and shoppers were asking "Ewwww, what do I do with the heads?" People are more and more accustomed to boneless, headless, skinless everything.
                        The heads are about 30 - 40% of bulk and weight so is makes sense to remove them for shipping and processing if most people aren't going to want them.
                        The flavor that the heads add to stocks and other preparations is incomparable.

                        1. re: kimcheater
                          k
                          Kater RE: kimcheater Feb 10, 2007 10:05 AM

                          I'm able to get fresh wild caught shrimp at the fishmonger and the difference in both flavor and texture is astonishing. He typically takes the heads off, though he will save them and his extra shells from other preparations if you call ahead and ask for them! I had always felt I was getting nice quality shrimp when I took the time to visit a fish store, but this is the first shop I've found that offers 'wild caught' and that seems to make a world of difference!

                          1. re: kimcheater
                            j
                            justagthing RE: kimcheater Mar 14, 2007 08:02 PM

                            Guess these people haven't had salt and pepper shrimp or live shrimp in a sushi bar. After they prepare the meat of the shrimp, they take the shell and head and deep fry them and serve it with ponzu sauce. Salt and Pepper Shrimp is usually eaten with the head attatched as well. Yummy!

                          2. Sam Fujisaka RE: kimcheater Feb 10, 2007 04:27 PM

                            Have to agree with kimcheater outside of places like Vietnam and Hong Kong. I would rather have a catch flash frozen aboard rather than specimens too long in a turgid tank.

                            1. m
                              MakingSense RE: kimcheater Feb 14, 2007 01:29 PM

                              A story in the Washington Post this week showed what we're all up against buying fish filets at markets and restaurants. In one area of Florida, alleged grouper at 17 of 24 restaurants was actually another less desirable species according to DNA analysis. conducted for the State Attorney General's Office. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...
                              Even if you can see the whole fish, do you really know what that kind of fish looks like? Can you tell if a fish has been previously frozen? How old is it? One filet looks just like another. Do you know what you're paying for?

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: MakingSense
                                k
                                kimcheater RE: MakingSense Mar 14, 2007 07:51 PM

                                It's hard to find a reliable fishmonger, too. There was a story in the New York Times a few years ago about how salmon that was labeled as wild at a lot of places actually turned out to be farmed. Only one store--the most expensive one--had the wild salmon correctly labeled. I'd like to think that I could tell from the way the fat is layered and from the hue of the flesh, but I'd be kidding myself.

                                1. re: kimcheater
                                  j
                                  justagthing RE: kimcheater Mar 14, 2007 08:01 PM

                                  But I can sure tell the difference in taste.

                                  1. re: kimcheater
                                    raytamsgv RE: kimcheater Mar 15, 2007 12:57 PM

                                    Pacific salmons are seasonal (spring through autumn). If you get fresh Pacific salmon at any other times of the year, it's farmed. Atlantic King salmon is almost always farmed. Atlantic salmon has a bright orange color that most people associate with salmon because that's what they see in stores. It has been dyed that way. Pacific kings are deep pink. Sockeyes are deep red.

                                    If you can see the whole fish, it's pretty easy to identify the salmon.
                                    http://dnr.metrokc.gov/wlr/waterres/s...
                                    http://www.fishingnet.com/salmon_reco...

                                2. BobB RE: kimcheater Mar 15, 2007 08:06 AM

                                  Then again, there is the Chinese practice of serving some fish still alive. I've seen this in Hong Kong and Singapore - there is a fairly common version of "drunken shrimp" where the shrimp are still alive when they mixed with the alcohol and jump around, and another (stop now if you're squeamish)....
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                                  where the fish is taken from the tank, quickly cooked on one side, and is considered overdone if it's not still wiggling when served.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: BobB
                                    j
                                    justagthing RE: BobB Mar 15, 2007 05:01 PM

                                    When I was 17, my uncle took us to a place on the shore in Taiwan for their specialty, but I didn't know what it was called. I remember that they put a big covered bowl in the middle of the lazy susan and then lifted the lid and added the alcohol. Anyways, all of a sudden it sounded almost like popcorn. I would not take the first bite, my mom did and gave me the other half. Must say it was very tasty. Nowadays, I would probably not be scared to take that first bite.

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