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Buying fresh whole fish (striped bass) in New York Chinatown

So I wanted to start cooking some steamed whole fish (striped bass in particular). The prices in Chinatown fish markets seem reasonable, but I'm torn between buying something from the tank - or sitting on ice. The fish sitting on the ice look/feel/smell fresh, but I'm just curious about how long they've been sitting there. Is it possible these were dead fish from the tank that they just put on the ice? Where did the striped bass really come from? Is it possible it was actually frozen and just defrosted in the morning?

I know nothing is fresher than fish from the tank, but it's much more expensive. i'm just curious about where the fish really came from. Are some days better than others to get fish? If the fish on the ice can be somewhat 'comparable' to fish out of the tank, i prefer to buy that instead because it's cheaper. Any thoughts you fish experts?

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  1. Go to New York Mart and ask for Joe Tam, he will take care of you

    1 Reply
    1. If you're trying to maximize value, I used to see the fish guy take dying fish out and put them on ice, to sell at a discount to live. But, it really does make a difference. I used to buy striped bass from C-town to make soup (simple, nothing more than fish, ginger, scallion, water and salt to taste). And while even a just dead fish would have the classic fishiness in the soup (because there aren't many things to hide that flavor), the live fish would always have the cleanest, most refreshing aroma / taste.

      1. Just curious, how much (per pound cost) are those live striped bass in the tanks? The already-dead ones?

        In my area I get them live from the tank at about $9/lb ungutted/intact whole fish.

        1 Reply
        1. re: huiray

          I think live striped bass usually go for $6 to $7 a pound in NYC Chinatown, whereas the dead ones go for about $4 to $5 a pound. I know it doesn't seem like a huge difference, but I'm just on a tight budget this month.

        2. Hey Fishman, did you know that its striped bass season in the area? If you want to get adventurous, get a fishing pole and head over to the east river. The big ones move through the area at night.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Bkeats

            Lol - thanks for the suggestion Bkeats. I might consider in the future, but I think I'll stick to buying one for now. Any thoughts on buying fresh fish in Chinatown?

            1. re: FishMan12

              I have to say that between buying what I suspect is farmed striped bass swimming in a tank and farmed striped bass on ice, I don't think there will be that much of a difference. I much prefer a wild caught striped bass or bluefish.

          2. First of all, they're not striped bass. They're "sunshine bass", a cross between a male striped bass (Morone saxatilis), and a female white bass (Morone chrysops).

            Sunshine bass are aquacultured. Exclusively. They're fed pellets made of juvenile finfish and raised in severely crowded conditions, which means that they're dosed with antibiotics.

            And they're not a good fish for steaming at all. Try black sea bass ($), or flounder.

            11 Replies
            1. re: knucklesandwich

              Ok. So those fish that they have in the tank (鱸魚 in Chinese)are actually sunshine bass? That's a freshwater fish isn't it? And regardless of the fish type (sunshine bass, striped, etc.) - are fish on ice simply dead fish from the tank?

              1. re: FishMan12

                Fish should never to stored directly on ice, the water turns the flesh to mush. Also whole fish should be gutted as soon as possible. If whole ungutted fish are sitting around on ice the guts are fouling the flesh. I would go to the Lobster Place or other reputable mongers. Agree I would avoid tank fish in Chinatown. And yes farmed "striped bass" have inferior flavor.

                1. re: chervil9

                  Fish should never to stored directly on ice
                  So how do you keep your fresh caught fish? What do you think the day boats do with their catch?

                  1. re: Bkeats

                    Ok - I guess I'm even more confused now. If fish isn't suppose to be stored on beds of ice, what do you expect them to be on? All dead fish I see are always on a bed of ice (Chinatown, or other markets).

                    1. re: FishMan12

                      It seems that one ought to drain off the water from the melting ice, as opposed to letting it sit in a puddle of ice + melting ice + the water from the melted ice. Perhaps chervil meant that?

                      But yes, it seems to me that almost all fish markets and fish counters even in Western supermarkets etc etc hold and display their already-dead fish directly in contact with ice - those that I've seen in my many years of buying food to cook, anyway.

                      The recommended way of "preserving the catch" for sashimi-grade tuna and other fish on board fishing vessels is, in fact, by directly icing them (fish in direct contact with ice) with an optional pre-cooling in chilled seawater (CSW) (yes, direct contact between fish and water) or even holding them just in CSW until they get back to port. Freezing is, of course, a longer-term option on suitably-equipped boats...

                      1. re: huiray

                        If you look at the displays at Wild Edibles and the Lobster Place they have metal trays placed over the ice that hold the fish.

                        1. re: chervil9

                          Ok - so they're displaying fish in a fancy market for sale to an upscale crowd. How do you think the fish was kept cool before it got there? Ever been out on a boat on open water and tried to keep fish in a metal pan on ice when you're pounding through 3' chop? It goes directly in the fish locker with plenty of ice.

                          ETA - and I don't gut the fish right after I catch it.

                          1. re: chervil9

                            Are you saying that all fishmongers that store/display fish** directly on ice [or organizations that recommend so, like the SPC] are disreputable? (see your previous post) Wow.

                            BTW, I took a look at The Lobster Place's website. Here's their shopping landing page: http://store.lobsterplace.com/store/d... . It seems to me that all the pictures of whole fish (except the King Salmon) show fish in direct contact with ice. :-)

                            ** BTW we are really talking about whole fish in this thread.

                            ETA: The Wild Edibles website has pics of BOTH their whole fish and fish fillets on ice. The whole fish in direct contact with ice, the fish fillets with incomplete shielding (with all that "decoration") from direct contact with ice.

                    2. re: chervil9

                      That's not true, chervil9! According to the NYC Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene, fresh fish must be stored cold and on ice, 41°F or less. Furthermore, there is no inspection for fresh fish other than what can be done by sight, touch and one’s sense of smell.

                  2. re: knucklesandwich

                    Will disagree here. I steam these all the time and they're quite delicious.

                    1. re: knucklesandwich

                      I was listening to a podcast with James Tracey, the exec chef of Craft and Colicchio & Sons.


                      He mentioned that the fish in Chinatown is "genetically modified". Anyone know if that's true?

                      I generally get black sea bass from Chinatown. I don't really find that much issue over it when it's only $4-5/lb vs $8+ at Whole Foods or other places.

                    2. Just buy your fish from Blue Moon or Pura Vida at the greenmarket, and you won't have to worry about it.

                      Black sea bass is one of the best there is.

                      And if you eat fish from the East River, you're nuts.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mitchleeny

                        Lots of migratory fish moving from up north through the area including the east river. They come in from the Atlantic through the Race into LIS, past Hell's Gate, down the east river and out once again into the Atlantic and continue south. Stripers, bluefish, even bonito and albacore. Fishing in the harbor this time of year can be very exciting. The fish are fine to eat too. They move north in the spring and south in the fall. There is a breeding pool of stripers up the hudson, but most of the fish are just passing through. Nothing like hitting a blitz of the fish going through a school of bunker.

                        1. re: Bkeats

                          after watching a Chinese man pull a bunch of good sized stripers out of the Hudson at Battery Park City I had a thought about where some of the good priced fish in these markets may be coming from.

                          For FishMan12, I definitely dont believe that the fish on ice you see in Chinese markets come out of the tanks. They sell too many fish for that, and the live market is a smaller specialty market. Maybe a fish winds up there from time to time, but I imagine the vast majority, maybe all of the fish for sale were purchased dead from commercial sources.

                      2. Thanks for all the responses. Well, it sounds to me that no one really know's the difference between fish from a tank and fish laying ice. I guess the only conclusion is that all those fish laying on the ice are simply fish that died in the tank.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: FishMan12

                          Not necessarily died in the tank. Live fish cost more to transport. That's why they cost more. The fish on ice have been dead for a while. Lot easier to ship fish on ice.

                          1. re: FishMan12

                            the ones that are fish that have just died in the tank are usually clearly marked as such. otherwise, i would assume the fish are long dead.

                          2. The seafood sold in Chinatown is arriving via the Fulton Street fish market at Hunts Point - the second largest fish market in the world. One vendor of striped bass is Nature's Catch out of Clarksdale, MS - seems they were just bought by a larger Texas concern.

                            Attached photo taken along Canal Street last year. The white box on top at right is farm raised striped bass from Nature's Catch.


                            6 Replies
                            1. re: scoopG

                              thanks scoopG. Do you think the fish is coming in daily? I'm just curious if the fish I see laying on beds of ice might have been sitting there for days. Do you think they were caught recently? Is it possible that they are quite old?

                              1. re: FishMan12

                                FishMan12, I think the fish in Chinatown is very fresh - Chinese demand for fresh fish and seafood is high. You have to judge fish for yourself - their eyes should be clear and bulging and the gills should be bright red. Fresh fish flesh should be firm to the touch.

                                Fish that is going bad will have a fishy odor of course and the eyes will be cloudy. Also the gills will be grey colored; the scales are loose. In the attached photo you can see the truck of the Chinese vendor. Some hounds prefer the fish mongers on Grand street.

                                1. re: scoopG

                                  It's always caveat emptor when buying seafood, isn't it?

                                  I just happen to think the you're more likely to find some shady fish in Chinatown than at, say, Whole Foods or the greenmarket.


                                  1. re: scoopG

                                    And then there's this (regarding stripers):

                                    "Striped bass are a big marine fish concern of the DEC not only because they are a prized game fish for recreational anglers, but also because they are full of PCBs, thanks to the General Electric ( GE - news - people ) plants upstream on the Hudson that pumped the contaminants into the water for 30 years until 1976. There is no commercial fishery for stripers in New York City waters."


                                    So go right ahead and enjoy that fish from the East River.

                                    1. re: mitchleeny

                                      I think you were responding to me and not scoop. You missed my point. Striped bass is migratory. Any issue with pcb is there regardless of where they are caught. If you know anything about striped bass, there are two principal breeding areas, the hudson and the Chesapeake. The fish all head north in the summer and travel south in the fall. If you eat wild striped bass, no way of knowing which population you are getting. By the way, many wild fish have some sort of issue whether it be mercury or pcb. Based on your concerns I hope you don't eat tuna.

                                      1. re: Bkeats

                                        No, I get your point...or biology lesson. I think you missed mine.

                              2. although this is an old thread,
                                i'd like to provide my comment/experience in case people are interested in similar discussion.

                                the golden rule shopping in chinatown in general,
                                if you dont know what you're doing, there's a big chance that you are going to get something below the average quality compare to those who pay the similar price.

                                because there are too many picky customers(chinese) out there, so that they'll try to sell the less quality items to those who apparently can't tell the difference and who doesn't seems like to come back often enough. (if you have a way to make them like you, then MAYBE that's a different story)

                                I'm chinese and mandarin is my mother tongue, even that sometimes it's still not completely comfortable for me to shop in chinatown when i dont have enough knowledge for what i intend to buy.