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fish: Trader Joe's, Asian markets, etc.

We're trying to eat more fish and I'm wondering where I can get the best bang-for-buck fish. Is Trader Joe's frozen fish better than fresh supermarket fish? Also, why is the fish at Asian market SOOO cheap? It makes me wonder! I know that going to the fish market is the best bet for fresh fish but I can only do that for special occasions.

Fish-eaters: help!

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  1. Asian markets price their goods according to their market & what their customers will spend, it's basic economics. And obviously, I can't speak for your Asian markets, but mine have a very high turnover of fresh fish, which makes me think they buy in mega quantities, which again, accounts for much lower prices. Most of them are no frills, too, which helps keep costs down.

    TJ's frozen fish is usually a good deal too. Some frozen is even better than what you would find fresh, since they are flash-frozen at the boat or dock when they catch them. Many fresh places don't have a high enough turnover to have Truly fresh, it is usually thawed from flash frozen to begin with so at least if you buy it frozen, then decide not to make it that night, you can keep it frozen.

    1. Trader Joe's frozen fish section has your usual suspects: halibut, salmon, and occasionally some tuna. If you're trying to eat more fish, become tired of the same thing, you'll probably find more variety at your Asian market. The market is usually cheaper because they sell by the whole fish -head, tails, bones, fins, all of which are parts that are considered "extras" whereas at Trader Joe's, fish are sold only as boneless fillet.

      If you don't want the head, or fins (which are really good when deep fried) of your fish and ask for it to be removed, you will still likely be charged for it, as the whole fish is weighed by pound, then cut however you like. However, if you look to the live fish section swimming around in those tanks, you'll find that those aren't very cheap compared to TJ's fish. Hope this helps, and have fun!

      6 Replies
      1. re: toasts

        thanks for the replies. honestly, buying whole fish kind of skeeves me out and i wish it didn't. i guess i will be buying fish at trader joe's from now on!

        1. re: greengelato

          After seeing so many reports about stores selling mis-labeled seafood (ex. labeled as halibut, but really tilapia), and how it is a prevalent practice, I started buying whole at the Asian markets. It's easy, fresh and reassuring. I know what I am eating.

          1. re: Cathy

            Anybody who can mistake tilapia for halibut deserves to get ripped off. They are absolutely nothing alike.

            1. re: Jackie007

              Bad example. I thought the King Mackerel labeled as Grouper would have been an obscure reference to the person who was asking the initial question.

              There have been a number of recent reports about mis-labeled seafood:

              http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07...

              http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow...

              http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/ma...

            2. re: Cathy

              Boy ain't that the truth. We had a fishmonger at the local Farmers Market get busted for passing off farm raised fish from Viwetnam as fresh local Sole.

            3. re: greengelato

              Just curious - why does buying whole fish skeeve you out? Is it the eyes staring at you?

              One could ask for the fish to be cleaned and the head, fins, etc cut off and discarded before the "package" is handed over to you. And if it is from the live fish tanks, tell the person who fishes out the live fish (now that's fresh!) and whacks it on the head before disemboweling it that you want the head chopped off too. You don't have to closely study the whole process. :-)

              [Pity if one discards the fish head, though. Cooking an intact fish with head on gives more flavor][Not to mention all those fish-head curries...]

          2. Well, your best bet for fish is a place with a demanding, knowledgeable clientele, and high volume/turnover. Also, unless you know your fish filets/steaks very well, buying dressed & scaled whole fish means you're more likely to correctly ID your fish. Chinese and other Asian customers may prefer to point at live fish in a tank (hence a certain practical preference for freshwater fish that can be more easily kept in a tank - also the kind of fish likely to be found in interior lakes and rivers, et cet.) for killing on the spot, because that way they know what it is and how long it's been since it was killed....

            I recall the owner a fabulous Chinese restaurant near me telling me the following about why she only had one squid dish on the menu: most of her customers are from the area around Beijing, and squid is an ocean creature that cannot be kept in tanks and must be transported very urgently to the interior before it spoils, so it was a luxury item back in the day and most normal folks didn't develop a taste for it. This just gives you a sense for the reality of context that is often missing at sterile American fish counters showcasing only (often skinned) fish filets and the occasional fish steak.

            I will tell you this: if an Asian fish market is too intimidating for you, starting buying fish at your supermarket on Tuesdays-Saturdays (I go on Tues, Thur & Sat) and experiment: see what is thawed best and is the best quality over time. Take small risks and build up your familiarity; that will empower you. You will gradually become friendly with the people behind the counter, and they will eventually start giving you tips. I had a terrible prejudice against supermarket fish counters until this year, when I learned - much to my surprise - how much better they are now at getting fish that has been thawed properly, and managing inventory to sell out as much as possible every night (I often showed up when the counter opened, so I could see all the stacks of containers and witness what was freshest, et cet.) While some markets were better overall than others, all had something good pretty regularly.

            The drought-stricken corn harvest means meat and poultry prices are going to rise over the next half-year, and you will find fish less dear by comparison to those raised prices. It's a good time to get a head start and learn about fish hands-on with what's available to you.

            1. I buy from TJ's more often than not, mostly because I'll buy several different ones at a time and throw them in the freezer. Since Mrs. O stopped eating any of her fellow creatures it makes little sense for me to go buy a fresh one and hurry home with it, though if I see a good one the right size and she's going out that night … but that's usually gotten from a supermarket close to home.

              My only problem with TJ's fish is that rough handling during transit can tear the plastic wrapping and breach the vacuum seal. Then if the fish should thaw even a tiny bit and refreeze it can get a touch of freezer-burn, which does the flavor (or the nutrition) no good. So I don't buy any whose wrapping is loose.

              1. I've gotten good frozen fish from Trader Joe's, and the prices are very reasonable. Don't buy fresh fish as I don't want to have to deal with whether it's really fresh or even safe.

                4 Replies
                1. re: John Francis

                  Fresh fish is just that. Fresh. It should SMELL fresh, not fishy at all - except for a bit for some VERY oily fish like bluefish.

                  I totally agree about the Asian markets. They have HUGE turnover and there is always something really good and a good deal too. Bear in mind that while I shop there, many asians do too - and they are VERY demanding about the quality and freshness of the produce, meat, fish, etc. A good asian market will have better stuff than pretty much any other place.

                  These are BIG markets - places like H-Mart or "Asian Food Markets" (that's really it's name). I mostly stick to wild caught but sometimes pick out a nice piece of farmed.

                  When buying whole fish it is REALLY easy - just look at it - the EYES in particular will be still nice and full, not sunken and flat and dead.

                  1. re: PepinRocks

                    I've heard all that, but I still prefer to play it safe and easy.

                    1. re: PepinRocks

                      I agree with you about checking the eyes on a fish. Likewise, it is advisable to check the gills to make sure they are a vibrant red color and not dull or browning too much. As to the smell, I think the "shouldn't smell fishy" thing has been oversimplified. As I posted a quite some time ago:

                      "I think the TV chef aphorism about the smell of fish can be misleading. I mean, if the ocean really smelled like the creatures I extract from it, I assure you I would not revel in the surf half the days of the year. I agree with many that not all fish smells the same, but let’s be honest, fish smells like fish.

                      I acknowledge that fish smells like fish at the time I remove the hook. Fish smells like fish on ice on the trip back to the Inlet. Fish smells like fish while I am cleaning it and so do my hands and knife when I’m done. Fish smells like fish when I cook it. And, with many preparations, the house smells like fish for a bit after I cook it."

                      I have purchased fish at H-Mart and I have seen some there that I did not think looked good at all. In many ways, I think it good advice for someone who doesn't know too much about selecting a fish to purchase frozen filets, especially anything frozen at sea.

                      1. re: MGZ

                        Totally agree with your assessment. Every fish market & counter I've been to always smells like fish to me too. Not stinky, rotten fish. But fishy, nonetheless.

                        And I get the heads & tails chopped off too when they clean it for me. Not so much for the look as that I find it fits better in my c.i. Pan when I fry them whole. But face it, not everyone is into looking or cooking, for that matter, a fish head. Especially Americans. We like most of our meat & fish to be solidly cleaned, and practically processed ;)

                  2. There is a huge difference in taste between frozen cryo vac'ed fish and fresh fish. I buy TJ's from time to time and its fine for what it is. Frozen largely tasteless fish. The tuna I've bought is particularly sad. Sole is ok. Hate the pre-seasoned stuff. I keep some in the freezer because in a pinch, you drop the bag in cold water to defrost in a few minutes and you can cook something quick. On the other hand, if we're planning on having a nice fish dinner, then you go to the market and get the fresh stuff. Its more expensive but it tastes so much better. So the answer depends on what you are looking for. If you are adding fish to your diet just for the sake of eating more fish, TJ is ok. If you are already eating fish and you want to step up the quality of what you are eating, then you need to go to the fish market. Be warned though that a good quality piece of fish can cost you more on a per serving basis than other meats.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Bkeats

                      In agreement with you about the fish from Trader Joes. I've got their packaged fish (almost all of which are really "packaged fish meals") a few times and have always been disappointed. Tasteless, poor texture, poor mouthfeel.

                    2. As noted, look at the supermarket ads. I do this each week when they come out. I also shop at the begining of the ad week. They tend to run their inventory down towards the end of the Ad week and the selection\quality suufers. Also, if you have a CostCo, take a look. The ones near us have a "Seafood Show" a couple times a month. I've recently bought some beautiful pieces of Alaskan halibut at a really good price. They have laso been a good source for mussles, which are very friendly on the wallet.

                      1. Regarding Trader Joe - I am not fond of their frozen fish (I rather buy fresh fish from a local Korean Fish monger, or Corrado's or KMart, depending what looks good that day), but on occasion I pick up a bag of frozen Langoustine tails from TJ. I like them very much as part of a mix in Seafood soups.